Humanitarian action is traditionally understood as saving lives and alleviating suffering during and in the aftermath of natural disasters, armed conflicts and situations of chronic vulnerability, as well as preventing and strengthening preparedness for the occurrence of such situations. Humanitarian emergencies affect the physical and psychological wellbeing of individuals and families and can result in the destruction of infrastructure, damage to social and economic systems, loss of livelihood, forced displacement, and in human rights abuses including, summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and cruel and degrading treatment. Humanitarian emergencies can also create a context for or exacerbate poor governance and a disregard for legal standards resulting in environments that allow for human rights abuses and impunity. Humanitarian actors seek to be cognizant of the sociopolitical contexts within which they operate so as to better identify and understand the affected population and because context will influence access and ability to assist impacted individuals and groups. In addition, humanitarian actors understand that individuals can be subject to a number of different risks and impacts based on individual characteristics and group membership and that these need to be responded to accurately.
This paper proposes to carry out an analysis of the professional standards and best practices that guide humanitarian action (e.g., Sphere Handbook, Inter-Agency Standing Committee guidelines, ICRC’s Code of Conduct) and to discuss how well these guidelines ensure the protection, provision of assistance, and rehabilitation of individuals impacted by human rights abuses. This analysis will reference relevant aspects of the international laws that are pertinent to humanitarian action (i.e., international humanitarian, refugee and human rights law). In addition, the four humanitarian principles, in particular neutrality, and the politicization of humanitarian action will be discussed in terms of its implications for the protection and promotion of human rights. Lastly, the paper will offer recommendations for a more effective and targeted approach to ensuring the protection and rehabilitation of victims of torture and other human rights abuses within humanitarian emergencies.
The project is self-funded. The author does not have any conflicts of interest to declare.