The Oxford handbook to international humanitarian law
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2020
The main tenet of international humanitarian law (IHL) is that human suffering should be limited, even in an environment where causing death and injury is, to a certain extent, legitimate. In amongst the violence and death that characterizes armed conflict in all its forms, humanitarian relief operations seek to assuage the suffering by providing protection and assistance to persons who are affected by the armed conflict. Humanitarian relief actors not only promote IHL to the parties to a conflict, but they also provide protection and assistance to victims (both combatant and civilian) of a conflict. States have the primary responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance to their citizens, to provide them with protection, and to respect and ensure respect for IHL. Non-state armed groups (NSAGs) engaged in armed conflict also have a responsibility to uphold IHL and provide assistance to people in the territory which they control. However, where the state or armed group is not able to provide such assistance, humanitarian relief actors and organizations can fill the gap. Therefore, like combatants, civilians, and other protected persons, humanitarian relief personnel have specific protections, obligations, and requirements under IHL. This chapter gives a brief history of humanitarian relief organizations, and addresses what constitutes a humanitarian relief organization for the purposes of IHL. It outlines the legal framework which regulates humanitarian relief organizations and operations in armed conflicts, including the rights, roles, and responsibilities of humanitarian relief organizations in armed conflict. It also notes the obligations on the parties to an armed conflict to protect humanitarian relief personnel and objects and discusses the emblems of protection under IHL. The chapter concludes by considering some current challenges to the legal framework governing the humanitarian relief space.