The Utility and Limits of Legal Mandate: Humanitarian Assistance, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Mandate Ambiguity

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How does a legal mandate affect humanitarian assistance? Is it essential for conducting successful assistance operations, or merely a convenient or helpful asset in the toolbox of organisations undertaking them? Can itbe an impediment to the provision of effective assistance? What, in other words, are the utility and limits of legal mandate?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that answers to these questions are bothdiverse and complex. The variety of organisations engaged today inhumanitarian assistance is vast. Players on the relief scene include inter-national organisations and religious bodies, national and international NGOs, government agencies and private corporations, militaries and others. Some come equipped with legal mandate, others not. The formerinvoke their respective mandates in varying forms, arenas, and frequency, and for a variety of purposes. The latter deliver assistancewithout grounding their work in any particular or general internationallegal right or obligation to do so. Some openly eschew legal mandate. Their record suggests that the lack of legal mandate is not necessarily a bar to success. By contrast, those claiming some legal mandate to engagein assistance cannot always point to a record of unremitting success.Intuitively, legal mandate and effectiveness in humanitarian assistanceoperations are notnecessarilypositively linked. By itself, legal mandate isnot the sole determinant of efficacy: factors other than the existence ofand reliance on legal mandate are also at play. Yet the creation, invocation, and avoidance of mandate still require an inquiry of its utility,limits, and downsides.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHumanitarian Action:
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal, Regional and Domestic Legal Responses
Editors Andrej Zwitter, Christopher Lamont, Hans-Joachim Heintze, Joost Herman
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781107282100
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • international humanitarian law
  • legal mandate
  • humanitarian assistance

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