Expert meeting weighs options for speeding progress on the regulation of international relief

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On 10-11 March 2015, the IFRC and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation jointly convened a group of legal and humanitarian experts from governments, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, UN agencies and academia to discuss global progress in solving the most common regulatory problems in international disaster relief operations. The meeting was held as part of a series of consultations in preparation for the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which will assess progress and set future plans for global work in the field of international disaster response laws rules and principles (IDRL) among other topics.

Participants noted that there has been encouraging signs of progress since the 30th International Conference adopted the “Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance” (IDRL Guidelines) in 2007. Some 18 countries have adopted new laws or procedures drawing on the IDRL Guidelines and bills or drafts are pending in approximately a dozen other countries. Several UN agencies and many regional organizations have partnered with the IFRC to promote actions to resolve regulatory problems in international operations. However, a review of recent disasters commissioned by the IFRC pointed out that regulatory problems have continued to pose a substantial challenge in recent international operations.

Participants agreed that the development of rules at the national level should remain at the centre of work in this area. Suggestions were shared for ways to speed progress, including by promoting more attention to legal issues in simulation exercises, means of developing procedures less formally than through legislation, and additional sharing of experiences between countries engaged with the issue.

Acknowledging, nevertheless, that developing national rules on international assistance is bound to be time-consuming and difficult to bring to the front of a crowded political agenda, participants also debated how regional and global efforts could contribute to solving the main problems. Some felt that current developments of “soft” international standards could help to reduce some of the mistrust that has been developing between international and domestic responders, but others felt that they would not be enough on their own. Noting the efforts of the International Law Commission to develop “Draft articles on the protection of persons in the event of disasters,” participants were asked to consider the prospects for a stronger international legal framework. Some thought it possible while others expressed scepticism.

Additional consultations will be held at the regional level in the coming months.