Fall 2017 Course Schedule

International Disaster Relief (CANCELLED) (LAW-795C-001)
Ingrid Nifosi-Sutton

Meets: 03:00 PM - 04:50 PM (CANCELLED)

Enrolled: / Limit:

Administrator Access


Assessment:Final paper, class participation, and in-class projects (such as preparation of international legal texts, role-plays, and preparation of complaints to be submitted to international human rights monitoring bodies). Students are also welcome to write an independent study and earn extra credits for the course.


International disaster response and the protection of disaster victims are becoming topical issues in international law, made increasingly relevant after a number of major disasters that occurred in the last thirteen years, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan; powerful earthquakes that affected Haiti in 2010, Nepal in 2015, and Italy in 2016; and the recent Hurricane Matthew. The UN International Law Commission’s 2007 decision to draft articles on the protection of victims of disasters and progressive trends in the protection of those persons under UN and regional human rights treaties further bears out the significance of the topics. Based on the above premises, it is essential that students familiarize with the international legal regime that governs disaster response and the protection of disaster victims, and that they investigate challenges and achievements in the field of international disaster management. The course will first analyze the definition of disaster put forward by the UN International Law Commission, the contexts and causes of disasters and the strictly related concept of displacement of populations. We will then look at the general scope of application of international disaster response law (IDRL) and analyze international instruments on disaster response. We will explore the extent to which other germane bodies of international law such as international human rights law and refugee law are applicable to disaster situations. After sketching out the legal framework of IDRL, we will examine principles informing disaster relief and elucidate rights and obligations of States affected by disasters. We will tackle the question of whether State obligations to seek international disaster assistance and to prevent disasters exist under international law. Subsequently, we will examine the responsibility of States vis-à-vis victims of disasters that have occurred in foreign countries. We will determine whether these States have an obligation to provide humanitarian relief and cooperate for the purposes of disaster prevention. We will critically analyze the concept of the “Responsibility to Protect” and discuss whether the scope of this responsibility should be expanded to cover disaster situations. The situation of disaster victims will come under examination, too. We will analyze international human rights instruments that are relevant to the predicament of disaster victims alongside the protection needs of said individuals. We will pay particular attention to the situation of women during disaster situations and relevant international human rights law. The enforcement of disaster victims’ human rights will be examined with reference to the relevant practice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Finally, we will discuss challenges to the protection of disaster victims and the controversial question of whether a “right to humanitarian assistance” exists under international human rights law. The topics, norm and notions that will come under examination will be systematically and critically assessed through the lens of case studies on recent disaster situations.

Textbooks and Other Materials

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Reading materials will be posted on the course website on MyWCL before the beginning of the Fall Semester.

First Class Readings

Not available at this time.


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