(Originally Broadcast on December 16, 2011)
In recent years, humanitarian organizations have seen a rise in constraints on their access to vulnerable populations in times of conflict or internal disturbance. While international law provides important bases for humanitarian NGOs to obtain access to populations in need, it also imposes clear responsibilities on humanitarian organizations in terms of the maintenance of a neutral, independent and impartial approach to such situations. States remain primarily responsible for the provision of emergency assistance to their populations. However, in countries such as Pakistan or the Sudan governments are engaged in counter-insurgency campaigns and may use humanitarian access as a political tool. How then should organizations respond to these legal and policy constraints? The humanitarian and human rights communities argue that a customary norm is emerging recognizing the right of an affected population to receive life-saving assistance, and by extension, the right of humanitarian organizations to provide such assistance in times of emergency.
By examining key provisions of international humanitarian law concerning humanitarian access and assistance, this humanitarian webcast addressed the following questions:
- In armed conflict, do civilians have a "right" to humanitarian assistance?
- Which international law provisions provide the strongest basis for humanitarian NGOs - both international and local - to obtain access when engaging with states and non-state armed groups?
- Who is responsible for ensuring and facilitating humanitarian access and assistance in international armed conflicts and non-international armed conflicts?
- How might humanitarian NGOs use tools from IHL to strengthen staff security while negotiating access?
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