Influencing laws and guidelines on humanitarian assistance


In response to an emergency/crisis what experience is there amongst humanitarian partners of successfully influencing the recipient government’s stance towards the taxing or imposing other duties/levies on humanitarian assistance?


International humanitarian law (IHL) and international disaster response laws, rules and principles (IDRL) set out rules and guidance on how to access affected populations, and how to deliver humanitarian assistance, during armed conflicts and disasters. This includes guidance on customs clearance and the taxation of relief, among other areas. IDRL is a fragmented collection of treaties, non-binding resolutions, guidelines and rules which have in many examples been adopted into national laws.

IHL provides some specific rules on access and delivery of humanitarian assistance during armed conflict. IDRL extends rights to disaster settings but is a weaker framework than IHL, and regulatory issues are more problematic. Rights and responsibilities are set out in (non-binding) Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance (IDRL Guidelines). The IDRL Guidelines include provisions on taxes and the levying of customs, among other provisions.

A number of activities and tools have been used to influence national governments adoption of the IDRL Guidelines including:

  • Using the ‘Model Act for the Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance’ as a tool to design national legislation;
  • Providing consultations, training and technical assistance to raise awareness in states wishing to implement the IDRL Guidelines;
  • Providing ‘readiness planning’ and ‘legal-preparedness’ – including: technical assistance; capacity building; and advocacy, dissemination and research;
  • Using the ‘UN Model Customs Facilitation Agreement’ and a ‘one-stop shop’ approach as a basis for customs agreements;
  • Using the ‘draft model emergency decree’ to develop regulations for international relief, in post-disaster situations when frameworks are not already in place;
  • Legislative advocacy is highlighted as particularly important when national Red Cross/Red Crescent organisations help develop and influence the laws and guidelines of their respective national governments;
  • Combining activities at the national, regional and global levels.

This paper also summarises a variety of practical examples that illustrate when these activities have been used in practice in: the Philippines; Indonesia; The Seychelles; Cambodia; The Cook Islands; Botswana; Mozambique; Namibia; Haiti; and Germany.

Suggested citation

Herbert, S. (2015). Influencing laws and guidelines on humanitarian assistance (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1236). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham