Legal framework for Humanitarian Action



Next session: Autumn 2020 (exact dates to be announced)

In humanitarian emergencies, the legal situation can often be complex. How can international law help in such circumstances to advance humanitarian objectives? For example, what legal instruments apply in different situations of armed violence and who do these instruments protect?

Those involved may try to use the law to present their actions in the best possible light or to discredit others. Humanitarian projects can become entangled in this situation. To deal with this, and use international law effectively, humanitarian workers need a good legal grounding. This course provides an introduction to the legal protection of victims of armed conflict and the work of the UN human rights mechanism, among other topics.

This course is developed jointly with the International Committee of the Red Cross.


Explore the law governing the recourse to armed force among states and international humanitarian law as they pertain to humanitarian action. Explain the responsibility to protect, and the legal framework of humanitarian access; and apply human rights law in times of emergency and armed conflict.

By the end of the seminar, participants will be able to:

  • Identify key norms and instruments of international law relevant to humanitarian action
  • Apply the law in concrete situations and use it to further humanitarian objectives

Learning outcomes in terms of knowledge - Understanding of;

  • The main rules of international law pertaining to humanitarian action
  • The rights of individuals and the correlative obligations of states under international law
  • The main international legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights and international humanitarian law

Learning outcomes in terms of skills - Capacity to;

  • Able to apply the relevant rules of international law in a specific case and integrate legal considerations into a humanitarian intervention strategy

Learning outcomes in terms of analytical competences - Ability to;

  • Analyse a humanitarian action problem from a legal perspective
  • Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of approaching a humanitarian action problem from a legal perspective


2 ECTS - Credits recognized by the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.