International Development Law Organization

IDLO and World Humanitarian Day

19 Aug 2013

As the United Nations celebrates World Humanitarian Day 2013, IDLO continues to harness the power of law in the service of post-disaster reconstruction.

Earlier this year, speaking to the UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Geneva, IDLO Director-General Irene Khan, paid tribute to their work. But she also spoke firmly for putting law at the heart of humanitarian action.

There is no denying that the last decade has been particularly destructive, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost in earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, or civil conflict. Yet when it comes to the survivors, and to repairing the social fabric, these have also been encouraging years: they have provided a testing ground for the mitigating effect of law-based approaches.

In Aceh, Indonesia, IDLO worked with local authorities and NGOs to empower children orphaned by the 2003 tsunami. Left without primary care-givers, they risked becoming a lost generation, in what was, even before the tsunami hit, a war-torn society. IDLO’s main focus was on boosting access to guardianship for women, whose role in food security and conflict-resolution is well-established. Gender rights were also strengthened in the process. All the while, IDLO sought to root its empowerment agenda in both formal and traditional legal systems, setting a template for future interventions. In Haiti, three years after the earthquake of 2010, some 300,000 quake survivors still lacked durable housing. Vast amounts had been spent in international aid. Yet the issue, as IDLO saw it, was less one of putting up tents than one of clarifying the ownership of land; ascertaining the right to build; and devising a framework for long-term resettlement. The organization brought together all stakeholders (not least earthquake victims themselves) to discuss tailored solutions. These involved developing the understanding and practice of land law, training notaries, and establishing escrow – or third-party – accounts, where purchase sums for land might be deposited until the property regime could be determined.

These and other examples suggest that the rule of law, a proactive human rights agenda, and legal empowerment approaches are essential to post-disaster intervention. As a thought leader at the intersection of law and development, IDLO is proud to celebrate World Humanitarian Day 2013.