Disaster law at the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent - December 2015

On December 8-11, 2015, the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent took place in Geneva, bringing together the States parties to the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, and partner organisations.

Ever since 2003, the International Conference has been a central international forum for assessing and advancing the state of disaster law worldwide. Previous resolutions on this topic can be found here.  Background documents and decisions on disaster law at the 31st International Conference in 2011 can be found here.

In 2015, the Conference addressed three themes related to disaster law: 

  1. accelerating progress in the facilitation and regulation of international disaster response;
  2. strengthening laws for disaster risk reduction; and
  3. providing supportive legal frameworks for saving lives through first aid.  

The Conference unanimously adopted Resolution 6 committing to further progress on all three themes.  Pledges from States and National Societies to undertake activities related to the resolution will continue to be welcomed.  A model text for pledges related to strengthening legal frameworks fordisaster response, risk reduction and first aid can be found found here.

Information about the various events at the Conference related to disaster law can be found found here.  

Archival information is also available about the treatment of disaster law at 31st International Conference can be found found here.


Accelerating progress in the facilitation and regulation of international disaster response

Few countries have clear and comprehensive rules for managing international disaster relief.  As a result, year after year, major relief operations become snarled with regulatory problems - including bureaucratic delays and restrictions on the entry of life-saving humanitarian goods, personnel and equipment, but also oversight gaps over inappropriate, poor quality or poorly coordinated relief efforts.

In 2007, Resolution 4 of the 30th International Conference adopted the “Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recover assistance” (the “ IDRL Guidelines”).  Since then, National Societies have undertaken 53 formal support projects for interested officials worldwide and 23 countries have adopted new laws, rules or procedures drawing on the Guidelines.  

This is encouraging progress, but the vast majority of states still lack rules and procedures to avoid the most common problems.  The IFRC has begun consultations on options for accelerating progress, including the potential for further strengthening the global legal framework, in light of the fact that the International Law Commission (ILC) has adopted the first reading of its “Draft articles on the protection of persons in the event of disasters.”

For more information:

Regional consultations Additional references
  • Africa: Addis Ababa, June 2015; Pretoria, August 2015
  • Americas: Toluca, November 2014; Bogotá, January 2015
  • Asia-Pacific: Bangkok, June 2015; Suva, October 2015 (TBC)
  • Europe:  Geneva, March 2015; Geneva, June 2015; Budapest, September 2015; Almaty, September 2015; Minsk, September 2015
  • Middle East and North Africa: Kuwait City, June 2015



Strengthening laws for disaster risk reduction

Today, it is well accepted that the actions and decisions of individuals, communities and nations make a significant difference as to whether or not a natural hazard turns into a disaster. There is widespread agreement that legal frameworks are a critical tool for governments to shape these choices, both for themselves and for others.  This was highlighted in the recently adopted Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction.

In 2011, Resolution 7 the 31st International Conference called on states to examine the extent to which their existing laws support DRR, particularly at the community level, with support from National Societies, the IFRC and UNDP.  A number of potential gap areas were identified based on consultations and preliminary case study research. 

In 2012, the IFRC and UNDP launched an ambitious multi-country research project in order to provide further evidence of best practice and common gaps in domestic law for DRR, the results of which  were summarized in a synthesis report launched in 2014. Concurrent with the research project, the IFRC and UNDP have led consultations for the development of a checklist and handbook to support lawmakers in assessing their laws for risk reduction against global best practice.

For more information:

Regional consultations Addditional references
  • Africa:  Dakar, September 2012; Abuja, May 2014; Dakar, October 2014; Nairobi, November 2014; Addis Ababa, June 2015
  • Americas: Panama, October 2013; Toluca (ENG/SP), November 2014
  • Asia-Pacific: Kuala Lumpur, February 2014
  • Europe: Geneva, October 2012; Geneva, May 2013; Geneva, June 2013



Providing supportive legal frameworks for saving lives through first aid 

First aid is a central aspect of disaster preparedness – as well as a core element of health response.  Promoting first aid training is a cost-effective way to ensure that someone with life-saving skills is on hand at the right time when a crisis arises. 

However, as first described in a 2010 IFRC report “First aid for a safer future”, the legislative environment for first aid is not as supportive as might be expected.  Subsequent polling of first aid trainers from National Societies around the world by the IFRC’s Global First Aid Reference Centre has shown that volunteers and members of the public are concerned about their legal exposure. 

Additional comparative law research commissioned by the IFRC has confirmed that few states formally provide for liability protections, though the actual incidence of prosecutions or lawsuits appears to be modest.   Moreover, this research shows that while many states have mandate first aid training requirements in at least some workplaces, very few have clear standards for the content and quality of that training, allowing for abuse or ineffectiveness.  

See more information:

Regional Consultations Additional references
  • Africa: Community-Based Health and First Aid Workshop, Addis Ababa, 8-12 September
  • Asia-Pacific: Central Asian Consultative Workshop on Law and Disasters, Almaty, 17 September; Asia Pacific First Aid Conference, Hong Kong, 26-29 November
  • Europe: Paris, October 2014



Disaster law events at the International Conference

Commission E Session 2: “Strengthening legal frameworks for disasters and emergencies.” Wednesday 9 December, 13:30–15:30, Room 1 (1st floor)

Official side events

Side event:  Strengthening legal preparedness for disasters and disaster risk reduction in the Pacific. Tuesday 8 December, 18:00–19:00, Room 7/8

Side event:  MIKTA efforts on strengthening international disaster response lawsWednesday 9 December, 8:00–9:00, Room 7/8

Additional meetings

First aid and law:  Strategizing the Next Steps, Sunday 5 December 10.00-11.30 Room TBC (Red Cross/Red Crescent only)

Launch of an IDRL Manual for the Gulf Cooperation Council, Wednesday 9 December 10.00-11.00, Room TBC (Arabic only)



Your thoughts and suggestions on these issues are very welcome.  Please contact us at disaster.law@ifrc.org.