Key documents that inform the Humanitarian Charter
The Humanitarian Charter sets out shared beliefs and common principles concerning humanitarian action and responsibilities in situations of disaster or conflict, and notes that these are reflected in international law. The following annotated list of key documents includes the most relevant international legal instruments relating to international human rights, international humanitarian law (IHL), refugee law and humanitarian action. It does not attempt to represent regional law and developments. The list also includes a number of other guidelines, principles, standards and frameworks that inform the Humanitarian Charter. As this is necessarily very selective, further resources and web links to these documents are available on the Sphere Project web site. Owing to the limitations of space, notes are provided only for the documents which seemed to require introduction or special explanation, because they are newer or have specific sections concerning disaster or conflict.
The documents are listed thematically, under the headings of:
1. Human rights, protection and vulnerability
2. Armed conflict and humanitarian assistance
3. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
4. Disasters and humanitarian assistance
To ensure clarity about the status of each document, they are each classified under sub-headings as:
(1) Treaties and customary law (where applicable)
(2) UN and other formally adopted inter-governmental guidelines and principles
(3) Humanitarian policy frameworks, guidelines and principles
1 Human rights, protection and vulnerability
The following documents relate primarily to the human rights recognised in universal treaties and declarations. A number of key documents relating to age (children and older people), gender and disability are also included because these are some of the most common bases of vulnerability in disaster or conflict.
1.1 Treaties and customary law on human rights, protection and vulnerability
Human rights treaty law applies to states that are parties to the relevant treaty, but customary law (e.g. the prohibition on torture) applies to all states. Human rights law applies at all times, with two possible exceptions:
- Some limited civil and political rights may be suspended during declared national emergencies, consistent with Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘derogation’)
- During recognised armed conflicts, IHL applies first if there is any inconsistency with human rights law.
Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948, the UDHR set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. It is not a treaty but is generally agreed to have become part of customary international law. The first sentence of the preamble introduces the concept of the ‘inherent dignity’ of human beings as a fundamental basis for human rights, and the first Article states, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966, entry into force 23 March 1976, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999, p. 171 and vol. 1057, p. 407. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm
Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR 1989 (aiming at the abolition of the death penalty), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 44/128 of 15 December 1989, entry into force 11 July 1991, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1642, p. 414. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr-death.htm
States parties to the ICCPR must respect and ensure the rights for all individuals within their territory or under their jurisdiction, while recognising the right of ‘peoples’ to self-determination and the equal rights of men and women. Some rights (marked with asterisk*) may never be suspended, even in the most dire national emergency.
Rights: right to life*; no torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;* no slavery;* no arbitrary arrest or detention; humanity and dignity in detention; no imprisonment for breach of contract;* freedom of movement and residence; only lawful expulsion of aliens; equality before the law, fair trial and presumption of innocence in criminal trials; no retrospectivity in criminal offences;* equal recognition before the law;* private life; free thought, religion and conscience;* free opinion, expression and peaceful assembly; freedom of association; right to marriage and family life; protection of children; right to vote and participate in public affairs; minorities’ right to enjoy their own culture, religion and language.*
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 (ICESCR), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966, entry into force 3 January 1976, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 993, p. 3 www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
States parties agree to commit the maximum of their available resources to ‘achieving progressively’ the covenant rights, which are to be enjoyed equally by men and women.
Rights: to work; to receive just remuneration; to join trade unions; to have social security/insurance; to family life, including protection of mothers after childbirth and protection of children from exploitation; to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing; to physical and mental health; to education; and to participate in cultural life and enjoy the benefits of scientific and cultural progress.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1969 (ICERD), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 2106 (XX) of 21 December 1965, entry into force 4 January 1969, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 660, p. 195. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cerd.htm
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979 (CEDAW), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 34/180 of 18 December 1979, entry into force 3 September 1981, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cedaw.htm
Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989, entry into force 2 September 1990, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3.
Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict 2000, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/54/263 of 25 May 2000,
entry into force 12 February 2002, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2173, p. 222. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc-conflict.htm
Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography 2000, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/54/263 of 25 May 2000, entered into force 18 January 2002, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2171, p. 227. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc-sale.htm
The CRC has almost universal state accession. It restates the basic human rights of children and identifies when they need special protection (e.g. when separated from their families). The protocols require positive action on specific child protection issues for states that are parties to them.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 (CRPD), adopted by UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/61/106 of 13 December 2006, entry into force 3 May 2008, United Nations Treaty Collection, Chapter IV, 15. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/disabilities-convention.htm
The CRPD supports the rights of people with disabilities under all other human rights treaties, as well as dealing specifically with awareness-raising regarding persons with disabilities, non-discrimination and accessibility of services and facilities. There is also special mention of ‘situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies’ (Article 11).
1.1.2 Genocide, torture and other criminal abuse of rights
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948, adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 260 (III) of 9 December 1948, entry into force 12 January 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 78, p. 277 www2.ohchr.org/english/law/genocide.htm
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984, entry into force 26 June 1987, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465, p. 85. www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm
This convention has a very high number of states parties. The prohibition on torture is also now generally recognised as part of customary international law. No kind of public emergency or war may be invoked to justify torture. States must not return (refouler) anyone to a territory where the person has reasonable grounds to believe he or she would be in danger of torture.
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted by the Diplomatic Conference in Rome, 17 July 1998, entry into force 1 July 2002, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2187, p. 3. www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/INTRO/585?OpenDocument
Article 9 of the Statue (Elements of Crimes) adopted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, describes in detail war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, thus codifying much of customary international criminal law. The ICC can investigate and prosecute matters referred to it by the UN Security Council (even if the accused person’s state is not a party to the treaty), as well as crimes allegedly committed by nationals of states parties to the treaty, or in their territory.
1.2 United Nations and other formally adopted intergovernmental principles and guidelines on human rights, protection and vulnerability
Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002, UN Second World Assembly on Ageing, Madrid, 2002, endorsed by UN General Assembly resolution 37/51 of 3 December 1982.
1.3 Humanitarian policy frameworks, guidelines and principles on human rights, protection and vulnerability
Protecting Persons Affected by Natural Disasters: IASC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters 2006, Inter-Agency Standing Committee. www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc/pageloader.aspx
International Law and Standards Applicable in Natural Disaster Situations (IDLO Legal Manual) 2009, International Development Law Organization (IDLO). www.idlo.int/DOCNews/352doc.pdf
Inter-agency guiding principles on unaccompanied and separated children 2002, developed by the ICRC, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Vision International, Save the Children UK and the International Rescue Committee, 2009.
Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action 2006, Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings 2007, Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
INEE Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, Chronic Crises and Early Reconstruction 2007, as updated 2010, Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) (formally recognised as companion standards with Sphere since 2008).
2. Armed conflict, international humanitarian law and humanitarian assistance
2.1 Treaties and customary law on armed conflict, international humanitarian law and humanitarian assistance
International humanitarian law (IHL) specifies the thresholds of when violent conflict becomes ‘armed conflict’ and thus makes this special legal regime applicable. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the official repository of the IHL treaties, and provides extensive information and resources on its web site (www.icrc.org), including the official commentary on the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, and the rules of the Customary International Humanitarian Law Study.
2.1.1 Core IHL treaties
The Four Geneva Conventions of 1949
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts 1977 (Protocol I)
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts 1977 (Protocol II)
The four Geneva Conventions – to which all states are parties and which are also generally accepted as part of customary law – concern protection and treatment of the wounded and sick in land warfare (I) and at sea (II), treatment of prisoners of war (III) and protection of civilians during armed conflict (IV). They apply primarily to international armed conflicts, except for Article 3 common to the conventions which concerns non-international conflicts, and some other elements now accepted as customary law in non-international conflicts. The two 1977 protocols updated the conventions at that time, especially the definitions of combatants and codifying of non-international conflicts. A number of states have not acceded to the protocols.
2.1.2 Treaties on restricted or prohibited weapons and cultural property
In addition to the ‘Geneva law’ outlined above, there is also the body of law often described as the ‘Hague law’ on armed conflict. This includes the convention on protection of cultural property and a number of conventions on the types of weapons that are restricted or prohibited, including gases and other chemical and biological weapons, conventional weapons that are indiscriminate or cause unnecessary suffering, as well as anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.
2.1.3 Customary IHL
Customary IHL refers to the law of armed conflict that is accepted by states, through their statements, policies and practices, as representing customary rules that apply to all states, regardless of their accession to the IHL treaties. There is no agreed list of customary rules, but the most authoritative interpretation is the study below.
The study covers almost the full ambit of the law of armed conflict. It lists 161 specific rules and whether each applies in international armed conflict and/or non-international armed conflict. While some legal commentators criticise its methodology, the CIHL study emerged from a broadly consultative and rigorous research process over ten years, and its authority as an interpretation of the customary rules is widely recognised.
2.2 UN and other formally adopted intergovernmental principles and guidelines on armed conflict, international humanitarian law and humanitarian assistance
UN Security Council ‘Aide Memoire’ on Protection 2002, as updated 2003 (S/PRST/2003/27).http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2002/SC7329.doc.htm
This is not a resolution binding on states, but a guidance document for the UN Security Council relating to peacekeeping and urgent situations of conflict, resulting from consultations with a range of UN agencies and IASC.
UN Security Council resolutions on sexual violence and women in armed conflict, especially resolution numbers 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1889 (2009)
All UN Security Council resolutions by year and number: http://www.un.org/documents/scres.htm
2.3 Humanitarian policy frameworks, guidelines and principles on armed conflict, international humanitarian law and humanitarian assistance
Professional standards for protection work carried out by humanitarian and human rights actors in armed conflict and other situations of violence 2009, ICRC,.
3. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – has a special legal mandate for protection of refugees under the Refugees Convention and Protocol. It has also been mandated by the UN General Assembly to liaise with states for the protection of IDPs. UNHCR has extensive resources on its web site.
3.1 Treaties on refugees and IDPs
In addition to the international treaty, this section includes two African Union (formerly Organization of African Unity, or OAU) treaties, because they both set historic precedents.
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (as amended), adopted by United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, Geneva, 2 to 25 July 1951, entry into force 22 April 1954, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137.
Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees 1967, noted by the UN General Assembly, in resolution 2198 (XXI) 2 of 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 606, p. 267.
The first international agreement on refugees, it defines a refugee as a person who, ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or return there because there is a fear of persecution...’
OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa 1969, adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government at its Sixth Ordinary Session, Addis Ababa, 10 September 1969.
This accepts and expands the 1951Convention definition to include people who have been compelled to leave their country not only as a result of persecution but also owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order. It also recognises non-state groups as perpetrators of persecution and it does not require that refugees show a direct link between themselves and the future danger.
African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) 2009, adopted by a Special Summit of the African Union, held in Kampala, Uganda, on 22 October 2009, not yet in force as at October 2010.
This is the first multilateral convention concerning IDPs. It was initially signed by 17 African Union states in October 2009 but requires 15 formal accessions/ratifications to enter into force.
3.2 UN and other formally adopted intergovernmental principles and guidelines on refugees and IDPs
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement 1998, recognised in September 2005 by heads of state and governments assembled at the World Summit in New York in UN General Assembly resolution 60/L.1 (132, UN Doc. A/60/L.1) as ‘an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons’. www.idpguidingprinciples.org/
These principles are based on international humanitarian and human rights law and analogous refugee law, and are intended to serve as an international standard to guide governments, international organisations and all other relevant actors in providing assistance and protection to IDPs.
4. Disasters and humanitarian assistance
4.1 Treaties on disasters and humanitarian assistance
Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel 1994, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 49/59 of 9 December 1994, entry into force 15 January 1999, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2051, p. 363.
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel 2005, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution A/60/42 of 8 December 2005, entry into force 19 August 2010.
In the convention, protection is limited to UN peacekeeping, unless the UN has declared ‘exceptional risk’ – an impractical requirement. The protocol corrects this major flaw in the convention and expands the legal protection to all UN operations, from emergency humanitarian assistance to peacebuilding and the delivery of humanitarian, political and development assistance.
Food Aid Convention 1999, a separate legal instrument under the Grains Trade Convention 1995, administered by the Food Aid Committee through the Secretariat of the International Grains Council (IGC).
Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations 1998, approved by the Intergovernmental Conference on Emergency Telecommunications 1998, entry into force 8 January 2005, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2296, p. 5.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992 (UNFCCC), adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 4 to 14 June 1992, welcomed by the UN General Assembly in resolution 47/195 of 22 December 1992, entered into force 21 March 1994, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1771, p. 107. http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/items/2627.php
Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCC 1997, adopted at the third session of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention, Kyoto, Japan on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2303, p. 148. http://unfccc.int/essential_background/kyoto_protocol/items/1678.php
The UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol address the urgent need for implementing climate change adaptation and risk reduction strategies, and building local capacity and resilience, especially in countries that are prone to natural disasters. It emphasises disaster reduction strategies and risk management, especially with regard to climate change.
4.2 UN and other formally adopted intergovernmental principles and guidelines on disasters and humanitarian assistance
Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations, with Annex, Guiding Principles, General Assembly Resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991.
Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015: Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters, adopted by the World Conference on Disaster Reduction 2005.
This sets out strategies for states and humanitarian agencies to incorporate disaster risk reduction in the implementation of emergency response, recovery and preparedness programmes, integrate it in sustainable development and build capacity for resilience.
Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance, (IDRL Guidelines) 2007, adopted by the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (which includes states parties to the Geneva Conventions)
4.3 Humanitarian policy frameworks, guidelines and principles on disasters and humanitarian assistance
Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief (see Annex 2: Code of Conduct).
Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement 1965, adopted by the 20th International Conference of the Red Cross.
HAP Standards in Humanitarian Accountability 2007, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (an international self-regulatory body for the humanitarian sector, including certification)
Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship 2003, endorsed by the Stockholm conference of donor countries, UN agencies, NGOs and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and signed by the European Commission and 16 states. www.goodhumanitariandonorship.org
Principles of Partnership: A Statement of Commitment 2007, endorsed at the July 2007 Global Humanitarian Platform meeting (a dialogue mechanism between UN and non-UN humanitarian organisations).