International legal frameworks for humanitarian action provide guidance on delivering assistance in a variety of challenging contexts. They can also be powerful tools in advocating for, and achieving, the protection of civilians.

Summary: The legal frameworks at a glance

See a summary map (PDF, 386 KB) of the key provisions and implications for humanitarian assistance of:

  • International humanitarian law (IHL)
  • International human rights law (IHRL)
  • International refugee law
  • International criminal law (ICL)
  • International disaster response laws, rules and principles (IDRL)

Concepts, principles and legal provisions

Challenges, traps and debates

About this Topic Guide

This GSDRC Topic Guide was written by Huma Haider in 2013. Its production was supported by the UK Government.

GSDRC appreciates the contributions of: Heike Spieker (German Red Cross and University College Dublin); Bhavani Fonseka (Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka); Ceri Hayes (Independent Gender Consultant); Michael Meyer (British Red Cross); Allehone Abebe (UNHCR Geneva); and Deborah Baglole (DFID).

GSDRC Topic Guides are thematic knowledge and evidence resources designed to support decision-makers working in international development and humanitarian assistance. This guide is the first in the series to have a more flexible, modular structure for greater ease of use. We welcome your feedback at

Suggested citation:
Haider, H. (2013). International legal frameworks for humanitarian action: Topic guide. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham

Image © UNHCR / B. Diab.

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