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OHCHR and protecting human rights in humanitarian crises

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OHCHR and protecting human rights in humanitarian crises

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OHCHR and protecting human rights in humanitarian crises

About humanitarian crises and human rights

Humanitarian crises, including man-made conflict, natural disasters and pandemics, sometimes combined, result in human rights concerns and exacerbate pre-existing human rights vulnerabilities. Disasters and natural hazards, as humanity is observing with COVID-19 and climate change, are on the rise. The number of people affected, the length, scale and complexity of crises, as well as projections of upcoming emergencies have increased exponentially in recent years. 

If not adequately addressed and corrected, the impact on the people affected creates a spiral of sufferings, injustices and atrocities that aggravate vulnerabilities and humanitarian needs, reduce the chance of fast recovery – including by fuelling existing tensions – and make the crisis worse. 

During the response to a humanitarian crisis, protecting human rights is an overarching and key component of humanitarian action. But it is also critical before it - through preparedness and prevention - and after it - to strengthen resilience, promote long-lasting solutions and sustain stability and peace. 

Our work on humanitarian crises

UN Human Rights mainstreams a human rights-based approach to humanitarian action with a view to securing the participation of the affected population in preparedness, response and recovery efforts. This means:

  • We engage at both field and global levels;
  • We advise senior humanitarian leadership and design project proposals to assist affected communities;
  • We ensure that the voices of the affected communities are integrated in strategic, operational and policy approaches; and
  • We participate at all levels of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). 

OHCHR is a member of both the Global Protection Cluster as well as the Global Health Cluster. OHCHR has been part of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Global Protection Cluster since 2017 and contributes to enhancing human rights aspects in the protection response. 

The Humanitarian Action Unit (HAU) is embedded in the Emergency Response Section, which is part of the Field Operations and Technical Division of OHCHR. HAU ensures that OHCHR engages and coordinates with global humanitarian processes and humanitarian action in the field. 

The statement on the centrality of protection (2013) and the policy on the centrality of protection (2016), both upheld by the inter-agency partners, emphasize the importance of focusing on the rights of people at risk in the face of a humanitarian crisis. The recent Call to Action for Human Rights (2020) and the Common Agenda (2021) by the UN Secretary General reiterate this commitment.

Read more about our work.