University of Reading launches the world’s first dedicated master’s degree in disaster law

Published: 7 December 2015 12:53 CET

By Montserrat Rovalo

The University of Reading’s School of Law is about to launch what can be considered the first disaster law master’s programme. The Global Crisis, Conflict and Disaster Management programme constitutes a multidisciplinary effort to examine the role of global law, policy and practice across the spectrum of possible conflicts, ‘man-made’ and ‘natural’ disasters. The programme is designed both for law graduates and those from other courses of study, and provides the possibility of obtaining an LLM in 12 months or a postgraduate certificate in 6 months. The syllabus includes law modules – such as human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law – as well as non-law modules – such as disaster risk reduction (DRR) and preparing for floods . The programme aims to analyse the relationship between different legal regimes; the role of law in responding to crises, conflicts and disasters; as well as the relationship between law and non-legal disciplines such as sustainability, resilience, DRR and disaster management. We talked to Dr. Katja Samuel – the Programme Director – who kindly provided us with further insights about the programme.

The motives

In light of the increasing number, intensity and impact of diverse forms of crises, emergencies, conflicts and disasters, Dr. Samuel considered it necessary to increase momentum behind the development of international disaster law and its influence on national and international law and practice. In addition, the current and changing global priorities as reflected in the Hyogo Framework for Action, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, are enhancing discussions and raising questions with many legal implications that are important to address.

The advantages

According to Dr. Samuel, this postgraduate programme is unique. First of all, it is entirely dedicated to disaster law, which makes it rather exceptional but very valuable in light of the future global demand of experts in disaster law. In addition, the program addresses the needs  expressed by more than 40 stakeholders – i.e. people on the ground and people making policies, both from governments and NGOs – who were previously consulted. The University of Reading’s School of Law is also collaborating with a number of other schools for the delivery of a truly multidisciplinary syllabus that attends the market’s needs.

Despite its specialized focus, however, the programme is grounded on international law principles, particularly from international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). In this sense, the programme will provide students not only with the core legal background and skills, but also with necessary specialization and expertise that will distinguish them on the field. The programme also includes seminars and workshops to help developing academic and professional skills.

The targeted audience

Dr. Samuel designed this programme for:

(1) Graduates or professionals with an international law background wanting to specialize in conflict and disaster law;

(2) Lawyers with no international law background, and

(3) Non-lawyers who would like to understand more about the legal framework governing global crisis, conflicts and disasters.

For the latter, the programme envisages a module on public international law and another one on foundational concepts, principles and actors that introduces principles of IHL and IHRL, other key legal regimes, and institutions behind them. In this sense, the programme guarantees that non-lawyers understand the fundamentals of international law.

The objective

For Dr. Samuel, international disaster law resembles nowadays an umbrella that covers different areas of law governing disasters and that are linked to each other by general principles of law. The programme aims at enhancing the coherence of this developing body of law, as well as to creating more understanding and awareness of the legal framework.

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