Protecting human rights in humanitarian crises

OHCHR in humanitarian action

Humanitarian crises -- including man-made conflicts, natural disasters and pandemics -- often result in or exacerbate human rights concerns. In addition, deteriorating human rights situations may trigger crises and increase humanitarian needs of affected populations.

OHCHR’s protection mandate is broad. We work to ensure the protection of all human rights for all people (see General Assembly resolution 48/141).

OHCHR applies a human rights-based approach to humanitarian action, securing the participation of the affected population in preparedness, response and recovery efforts. We aim at empowering people to claim their rights and strengthening the capacities and accountability of duty-bearers to meet their legal obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws. We try to include the most vulnerable and excluded from humanitarian protection and assistance, reduce discrimination and politicisation in the distribution of aid, and suggest measures to prevent violations and their recurrence.

Human rights monitoring, investigation, analysis and reporting by OHCHR brings attention to people affected by crises and gives them a voice. Everywhere, people who have suffered human rights violations and those at risk, seek to tell their stories, express what they fear, state how they are marginalized and speak about their coping mechanisms. Placing people’s concerns at the heart of humanitarian action is critical to support principled action, ensure access for all to assistance and protection, address violations and enhance accountability.

Human rights often perform a ‘bridging’ function across phases of a crisis, and support continuity among efforts by humanitarian, development and sustaining peace partners. Every humanitarian operation can benefit from human rights work, which addresses root causes of a crisis and therefore contributes to build a comprehensive response and enhance peace and security for all.

At global level

Through the participation in humanitarian coordination structures, we try to integrate the protection of human rights in humanitarian action.

We actively engage with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the Global Protection Cluster (GPC), where we contribute to policy dialogue, strategy, decision-making and operational fora.

At the first World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul in 2016, we made 32 commitments in support of the new Agenda for Humanity, contributing to collective efforts to prevent and reduce human suffering.

We also provide strategic, substantive and operational guidance to field presences and emergency deployments.

At country level

Since 2005, OHCHR has performed a key role in field Protection Clusters or similar coordination mechanisms, for example in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Fiji, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mauritania, Nepal, the Pacific, Palestine, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Ukraine.

OHCHR field presences also regularly provide human rights expert support to humanitarian leadership, including Resident/Humanitarian Coordinators and Humanitarian Country Teams.

Conversely, we support national and local authorities with guidance and training on human rights in areas such as the rule of law, access to justice and remedies, sexual and gender-based violence, or housing, land and property rights.

Key documents

Available on the website of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC):

IASC Policy on Protection in Humanitarian Action
14 October 2016

Independent Whole of System Review of Protection in the Context of Humanitarian Action
1 June 2015

IASC Statement on the Centrality of Protection
17 December 2013

Highlights and events

ECOSOC HAS 2017 – Side event report – Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Aid Workers
23 June 2017

The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights takes on the role of Co-Champion on Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Aid Workers
20 March 2017

World Humanitarian Summit

2017 OHCHR progress report on World Humanitarian Summit commitments

Seven human rights touchstones for the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit – Open Letter from the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Word)

Statement by UN experts
20 May 2016

In focus topics

Inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action:
Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
23 May 2016

Video statements by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the World Humanitarian Summit:

Statement by UN expert on the rights of persons with disabilities
19 May 2016

Protection of human rights during pandemics:

Feature story and video: Protecting Human Rights in Humanitarian Crises – the Ebola virus crisis


The UN Human Rights Office in Humanitarian Action (PDF)
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