Home Humanitarian Access and International Law: Symposium report

On 17 October 2019, Australian Red Cross and the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership held a symposium for humanitarian practitioners, researchers, trainers and policy-makers about international humanitarian law (IHL) and humanitarian access.

The symposium explored how IHL could be better leveraged to improve humanitarian access to people in need. The symposium was inspired by three related trends, identified in the 2018 State of the Humanitarian System report:

  1. That bureaucratic restrictions are, for the first time, ‘the most important overall impediment to providing humanitarian support to people in need’.
  2. Increasingly, humanitarian actors are working in situations where neither government nor non-state armed groups are prepared to follow IHL.
  3. And that ‘humanitarian staff and leadership do not fully understand the humanitarian principles and IHL, and so are unable or unwilling to apply and advocate for them’. 

"International Humanitarian Law contains important protections for humanitarian access, and if it is not being utilised due to lack of understanding, this could be a missed opportunity."

Rebecca Barber, Symposium Co-Convenor

The symposium was further inspired by the existence of a significant body of new research on why access is denied, and what works and doesn’t work in access negotiations, as well as the considerable support available to assist humanitarian practitioners with advocating and negotiating for humanitarian access.

The symposium aimed to bring all these strands together and promote understanding in the Australian context about what protections exist within IHL, what constitutes good practice in access negotiations, what support is available, and what challenges we should be working collectively to address.

Academic contributors


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