The utility and limits of legal mandate: Humanitarian assistance, the international committee of the red cross and mandate ambiguity

Rotem Giladi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


How does a legal mandate affect humanitarian assistance? Is it essential for conducting successful assistance operations, or merely a convenient or helpful asset in the toolbox of organisations undertaking them? Can it be an impediment to the provision of effective assistance? What, in other words, are the utility and limits of legal mandate? Anecdotal evidence suggests that answers to these questions are both diverse and complex. The variety of organisations engaged today in humanitarian assistance is vast. Players on the relief scene include international organisations and religious bodies, national and international NGOs, government agencies and private corporations, militaries and others. Some come equipped with legal mandate, others not. The former invoke their respective mandates in varying forms, arenas, and frequency, and for a variety of purposes. The latter deliver assistance without grounding their work in any particular or general international legal right or obligation to do so. Some openly eschew legal mandate. Their record suggests that the lack of legal mandate is not necessarily a bar to success. By contrast, those claiming some legal mandate to engage in assistance cannot always point to a record of unremitting success. Intuitively, legal mandate and effectiveness in humanitarian assistance operations are not necessarily positively linked. By itself, legal mandate is not the sole determinant of efficacy: factors other than the existence of and reliance on legal mandate are also at play. Yet the creation, invocation, and avoidance of mandate still require an inquiry of its utility, limits, and downsides.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationHumanitarian Action
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal, Regional and Domestic Legal Responses
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781107282100
ISBN (Print)9781107053533
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2015.


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