Human rights and international legal standards: what do relief workers need to know?

The concept of human rights is increasingly being invoked in the context of humanitarian relief, often in reaction to the frustration of attempts to bring relief assistance to civilian populations caught up in armed conflict. The people concerned, it is said, have a right to assistance. Sometimes it is claimed that external agencies have a right to deliver that assistance. Others stress the right of the people affected to protection from violence by reason of their civilian status. Threats to their security and well-being posed by the warring parties are described in terms of human rights abuse or denial though the need to negotiate safe access with those same parties for the provision of relief is often felt to be incompatible in practice with public denunciation of abuse.