Humanitarian Action


According to the United Nations Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, in 2020, 168 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance or protection.  This represents one in every 45 people in the world and is the highest number in decades.  These numbers will increase further due to the direct and secondary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Humanitarian actors striving to respond face a multitude of challenges, including securing funding for their operations, negotiating access, and operating in a manner that is principled and safe for beneficiaries and staff, all in an increasingly politicised arena.

ELAC’s work on humanitarian action aims to clarify and promote discussion on some of the key normative questions and challenges underpinning contemporary humanitarian action.

In 2013 the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) commissioned ELAC to conduct an expert consultation  This led to the elaboration of the 2016 Oxford Guidance on the Law relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict.

Ongoing work in this in this area is considering other aspects of the rules protecting civilians’ access to objects indispensable to their survival. These include the prohibition of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, and the rules regulating sieges, blockades and other restrictions, with a focus on their impact on humanitarian relief operations.

A further area of research focuses on the interplay between sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and humanitarian action.



Emanuela-Chiara Gillard discusses the impact of COVID-19 on sanctions-hit countries and innovative ways to could mitigate it at a webinar hosted by the Graduate Institute (2 June 2020).