In armed conflicts across the world, millions of civilians need emergency assistance to survive, but all too often fighting parties prevent this relief from reaching them. The Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) commissioned both the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) and the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations (HRFG) to address this problem. Led by Dapo Akande as co-director on both programmes, ELAC and the HRFG engaged in a series of expert consultations which took place in Oxford, in addition to informal discussions in Geneva and New York with officials from a number of international agencies and NGOs, with the aim of providing a restatement of the international law rules.
This process culminated in the launched the Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operation in Situations of Armed Conflict, a critical tool for actors concerned with helping civilians in conflict zones receive life-saving assistance, including food, medical supplies, shelter, water and sanitation.
“In many conflicts across the globe, parties withhold their consent for humanitarian relief operations or impose onerous bureaucratic restrictions on assistance. While fighting parties have clear legal obligations, the reality is that humanitarian access is a matter of negotiation between parties to an armed conflict and those seeking to deliver relief,” said Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
The Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict will both provide a firm understanding of the relevant rules designed to allow the delivery of assistance and enhance policy-making and advocacy to improve humanitarian access.
The guidance will target a variety of actors involved in humanitarian relief, including parties to armed conflict (both state and non-state), governments, international and nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly and other relevant bodies, as well as legal practitioners, scholars and the media.
Each section of the Oxford Guidance covers the legal framework relating to an aspect of humanitarian relief operations in international and non-international armed conflicts, with respect to both belligerent and non-belligerent states. The Guidance outlines the rules around giving consent, the arbitrary withholding of consent, and the limits to the types of procedures that fighting parties can impose. Where the law is unclear, the authors present possible different interpretations.