Sunday, January 24, 2010

International Law Aids Haitian Relief Efforts

As I watch the international community's efforts to provide relief to Haitians after the recent earthquakes, I have been struck by all the ways in which international law is facilitating that work.

Multilateral treaties governing airspace allow coordination of flights bringing aid into Haiti and flights out of Haiti evacuating the ill and orphaned.  These are supplemented by bilateral agreements such as one between the U.S. and Cuba that allows U.S. flights to enter Cuban airspace to facilitate the relief efforts.  Likewise, it was a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Cuba that gave the U.S. control over the oft maligned Guantanamo Bay, which is now being used as a staging area for the relief effort.

The international law of diplomacy allows United Nations and other foreign officials to enter Haiti to assess the damage and needs of the people and coordinate international efforts to provide aid.

International law is increasingly recognizing the concept of humanitarian intervention by States into another State where a national government is unable to fully function and protect and care for its own people.  While such intervention can be controversial in some cases, it is probably essential in Haiti given the scope of the disaster.

The international community has developed guidelines to make the provision of international aid more effective in the form of the Paris Principles on Aid Effectiveness. These principles aim to ensure that the provision of aid is coordinated and harmonized, is transparent and therefore less susceptible to corruption, that stakeholders at every level of society have opportunities to participate, and that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are prioritized. 

 

International refugee law helps to provide a framework for the evacuation and resettlement of refugees.  The United Nations also has developed  Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement to protect the rights of internally displaced persons, which include a right to assistance from the government on a nondiscriminatory basis, a right to be informed of the facts and the whereabouts of missing relatives, and a right to return to Haiti when the situation improves.

With every natural disaster, it seems the international community learns a little more about how best to respond to these tragedies.  While the events in Haiti are heartbreaking, international lawyers can play a positive role by developing international law to improve the coordination of the relief efforts.

 

(cgb)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/international_law/2010/01/international-law-aids-haitian-relief-efforts.html

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