The humanitarian challenge and the aims and scope of the Journal of International Humanitarian Action

  • Heintze H
  • Zwitter A
  • McDermott R
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The current refugee crisis illustrates once more the limi-tations of the international community in coordinating matters of burden-sharing in the face of claims of sover-eignty by states. It also highlights the international com-munity's failure to fulfill its responsibility in dealing with the crisis before it led to refugee flows by addressing the regional conflict in the Middle East much earlier. This crisis also illustrates that the laws of normalcy are not laws for all seasons. However, the principle of humanity imposes the responsibility on States to protect human beings in emergency situations resulting from natural or man-made disasters. The worst man-made humanitarian crises stem form armed conflicts, which lead to large-scale suffering of human beings and destruction. According to the principle of humanity and to human rights law and international humanitarian law, the victims of crisis and conflict are entitled to humanitarian assistance. The organization of this assistance produces numerous moral, legal, logis-tical, and technical questions. According to international laws and ethics, the burden of humanitarian actions falls to all states within the inter-national community and they have the obligation to ad-dress humanitarian emergencies. The United Nations Charter obliges its 193 member states under Articles 55 and 56 to take joint and separate action to find solutions to international economic, social, health, and related prob-lems (leg. cit. Art. 55(b)). Also, in accordance with the International Law Commission's Articles on State Respon-sibility, human rights are a responsibility of every state and the protection against large-scale human rights viola-tions is not only a right against any state but also an obli-gation of every state—a so-called obligatio erga omnes. This has been reconfirmed by the International Commis-sion on Sovereignty and State Responsibility in its 2001 re-port on the Responsibility to Protect. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's proposed initia-tive, the World Humanitarian Summit, due to take place in Istanbul in May 2016, is timely given the protracted na-ture of armed conflict and the related displacement crisis as well as the range of other challenges that humanitarian action seeks to address. Ahead of the Summit, a wide-ranging consultation process has been initiated, addressing each global region and seeking to engage all those with a stake in humanitarian action. It has brought together key stakeholder groups, including not only representatives of donor agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, UN agencies, and NGOs but also representatives of con-flict-and disaster-affected communities themselves, as well as the private sector and academia. Five action areas were identified during the global con-sultations ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016: dignity, safety, resilience, partner-ships, and finance. It was recognized that these issue areas are overlapping and interdependent. There was also a strong call for the Synthesis Report and wider consultation process to inform the Secretary General's report to be issued ahead of the Summit. The Summit marks an opportunity to invigorate the humanitarian system through building further the capacity of local ac-tors in humanitarian action. Other key imperatives are the greater recognition of the private sector's responsi-bilities in providing greater efficiency within humanitar-ian action and reducing risk. We are also cognisant of the role that the research community, broadly conceived, plays in contributing to more effective humanitarian ac-tion. We hope that this new journal will provide at the very least a small contribution to this important en-deavor. The journal is an initiative of the Network for Humanitarian Action (NOHA), a growing network of 12 European member universities and five global partner universities from different continents. The institutions share a commitment to humanitarian action and * Correspondence:




Heintze, H.-J., Zwitter, A., & McDermott, R. (2016). The humanitarian challenge and the aims and scope of the Journal of International Humanitarian Action. Journal of International Humanitarian Action, 1(1).

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