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Moderator: David Fisher
Speakers: Ingrid Nifosi-Sutton; Kirsten Bookmiller; Michael Gerrard; Elizabeth Ferris
Ms. Nifosi-Sutton described the three main uses of international law in responding to disasters: first, contributing to a better understanding of the role of states and the international community in managing disasters; second, improving state performance in responding to those disasters; and third, enforcing the human rights of victims. She pointed out that these rights include the right to a remedy for any violations. She described the ongoing discussions in Japan for a legal framework on disaster relief reduction, which may result in a new treaty or United Nations declaration.
Ms. Bookmiller described the emergence of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) network. This followed the chaos and lack of coordination in the international response to the Mexico City and Armenian earthquakes in the 1980s. After further problems in the international responses to four earthquakes in 1999, including difficulties of relief workers in obtaining visas quickly, it was decided to push for new international standards, eventually in the form of a General Assembly Resolution (57/150) rather than a treaty. Nonetheless, she said this resolution has proven to be a powerful tool in working with government officials who have been told their government supported it.
Mr. Gerrard unfortunately had bad news on the failure of the international community to address climate change. He described the “utter failure” of the Kyoto Protocol to achieve its aim of 5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and described as possibly the “saddest sentence in international law” a statement at a 2012 Durban meeting that states will “try” to achieve an agreement in 2015 that would not come into force until 2020, thereby wasting a decade. He described in stark terms the potential outcome – that it seems almost inevitable that the unacceptable 2-degree Celsius warming will take place. He described the need for an international agreement on where to relocate people displaced by climate change – which if Bangladesh is affected could run into the tens of millions – but the lack of any consensus on such an agreement.
Ms. Ferris spoke last, we were informed, to finish with an upbeat message. She did not disappoint, setting out the importance of human rights in disaster relief, an issue she said has received increasing intention since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. She set out three key issues. First, the duty of states to take reasonable steps to prevent loss of life, which has been set out in an increasing number of cases, especially the European Court of Human Rights ruling in Budayeva and Others v. Russia. Second, the need to address displacement and the rights of those displaced by disasters, using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the new African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention), which is legally binding. Finally, the need to address gender, as evidenced by research showing, for instance, that women are much more likely to die in floods in countries where there is serious gender discrimination (they may not know how to swim, may delay fleeing until they have permission to leave their home, etc.), and that gender-based violence increases among displaced populations.
Clive Baldwin is Senior Legal Adviser for Human Rights Watch.