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close this bookLaw in Humanitarian Crises, Volume II : Access to Victims: Right to Intervene or Right to Receive Humanitarian Assistance? (ECHO)
close this folderHumanitarian Intervention and Humanitarian Assistance: An Echo from the Past and a Prospect for the Future
close this folderIV. Humanitarian Assistance
View the document1. Humanitarian ''Assistance'' in International Humanitarian Law
View the document2. Humanitarian ''Assistance'' in the Context of Enforcement Measures

1. Humanitarian ''Assistance'' in International Humanitarian Law

The concept of "humanitarian assistance", as frequently used in international law, is in fact neither a legal concept, nor has the concept a well-defined meaning, scope and contents, although the principles which operate and which are applied within the framework of "assistance" are not alien to international (humanitarian) law and are, quite often, legal principles. In the context of our research and the two questions formulated above, it thus seems that there may be two situations in which humanitarian "assistance" may be invoked (as was stated under II., peace-time assistance or "emergency humanitarian relief operations" fall outside the scope of this contribution).

The first situation is a situation in which the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols of 1977 to these Conventions are applicable. In those treaties the term "humanitarian assistance" does not appear and is not used, but the various principles involved - all with certain restrictions and in varying terms - are familiar to the international lawyer and are related to the regulation of "humanitarian actions and operations" (like health issues, food, or the supply of other forms of relief, like those mentioned in Article 23 of Convention IV or Article 70 of Protocol I) in order to alleviate the suffering of the victims of an armed conflict

Both States and the ICRC "or any other impartial humanitarian organizations" are addressed by the Conventions and Additional Protocols in this respect, "subject to the consent of the Parties to the conflict concerned".

Under international humanitarian law as laid down in those international agreements the provision that the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions will "respect and [...] ensure respect for the present Conventions", this is not to be interpreted as an authorization to intervene by force as this falls outside the scope of ius in bello.

It is not the intention to describe the various principles involved which operate within situations of armed conflict covered by international humanitarian law. What is important from a conceptual point of view is to recognize that humanitarian "assistance" used under international humanitarian law is in fact a description of a multitude and variety of legal principles belonging to international humanitarian law (ius in bello); a generic and fluid term without a specific legal connotation, scope and contents. It has nothing in common with the legal concept of humanitarian intervention.