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The idea of protective humanitarian assistance: the role and responsibilities of non-mandated actors
Dora Abdelghani-Kot

The aim of this article is to highlight the substantial role that non-mandated humanitarian organisations play in terms of protection. It points out that the ethical responsibility of humanitarians means that they need to develop relief assistance which takes into account its consequences in the short, medium and long term and places individual rights at the heart of assistance. It also argues that the extraterritorial effect of certain rights means that humanitarian organizations and their staff are legally responsible in several areas of protection. It then presents a certain number of tools developed by humanitarian organizations to ensure that their assistance is increasingly protective and highlights the areas of activity in which improvements still need to be made.

Protection has gradually imposed itself as the new paradigm of humanitarian action. Indeed, history has shown that assistance can have a negative impact on people’s right to protection when it is not designed and implemented in the spirit of international law. Non-mandated humanitarian organisations’ lack of direct legal responsibility does not remove their ethical responsibility. On the contrary, it reinforces it. Thus, the bodies responsible for ensuring that human rights treaties are respected, whether at the regional or international level, have gradually sanctioned the horizontal application of certain rights where their violation by a private organisation can lead to the State being held responsible [1]. Eager to fully embrace this ethical responsibility, relief organizations are developing more and more tools to analyse their activity and the design and implementation of their programmes. However, the protective potential of these working methods have not yet been fully used. What is more, the absence of international legal responsibility does not remove the national legal responsibility of organizations and their staff. Over and above their obligation to respect people’s rights as established by the law in the country of operation, we will see that they are also supposed to respect certain rights established by the law in their own country.


[1] See, Human Rights Committee, Eightieth session, General Comment No. 31. See also “Nature of the General Legal Obligation on States Parties to the Covenant”, Adopted on 29 March 2004 (2187th meeting). See also, “The Protection of Human Rights in Humanitarian Crises”, A Joint Background Paper by OHCHR and UNHCR, IASC Principals, 8 May 2013; “The Centrality of Protection in Humanitarian Action”, Statement by the Inter Agency Standing Committee, IASC Principals, 17 December 2013; “Mainstreaming Protection: Protection as a New Global Normative Order?”, Paper for the SGIR 7th Pan-European International Relations Conference, 09-11 September 2010.