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Developments at the UN General Assembly (2018)

December 2018 was a crucial month for the humanitarian community at the UN. The UNGA adopted three Resolutions on coordinating humanitarian and disaster relief aid, while Member States echoed concerns that global crises and attacks on humanitarian personnel kept increasing, as did the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide through the effects of conflicts and disasters.

The Resolutions adopted are titled ‘Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations’ (UNGA Res 73/139 (14 December 2018) UN Doc A/RES/73/139. The Resolution was adopted in light of the Report of the Secretary-General bearing the same title, UN Doc A/73/78-E/2018/54, adopted on 9 April 2018), ‘International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development’ (UNGA Res 73/136 (14 December 2018) UN Doc A/RES/73/136. The Resolution was adopted in light of the Report of the Secretary General bearing the same title, UN Doc A/73/343, adopted on 27 August 2018) and ‘Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel’ (UNGA Res 73/137 (14 December 2018) UN Doc A/RES/73/137. The Resolution was adopted in light of the Report of the Secretary General bearing the same title, UN Doc A/73/392, adopted on 24 September 2018).

A further Resolution on ‘Disaster Risk Reduction’ was approved by the GA on 20 December 2018 (UNGA Res 73/231 (20 December 2018) UN Doc A/RES/73/231). The text underlined the need to address economic, social and environmental impacts of climate change, emphasizing that disaster prevention, preparedness, early action and resilience-building are, in most cases, significantly more cost-effective than emergency response.
All of the documents represent slightly amended versions of Resolutions that had already been adopted by the GA in previous years. However, while the ‘Disaster Risk Reduction’ Resolution was passed without a vote, the other three proved controversial among Member States.
Equally important was the adoption of the Resolution on ‘Protection of persons in the event of disasters’ on 20 December 2018. The Resolution follows a round of discussion that took place within the Assembly’s Sixth (Legal) Committee on the ‘Draft Articles on the protection of persons in the event of disasters’, adopted by the International Law Commission (ILC) in 2016 (link). The related debate offered interesting elements on the future of the Draft Articles (DAs).