Employ an overarching rights-based approach in disaster policies and operations


Disasters do not exist in a legal vacuum, on the contrary (pre)existing rules and obligations continue to apply in disaster situations. This is why it is very important for disaster managers to, always, use a human rights-based approach to their activity in all stages of disaster management.

Applicable to:

Stakeholders: Policy Makers, Disaster Managers

Disaster Phases: Preparedness, Response, Recovery

Types of Actors Concerned: Non-active citizens, Active citizens, Law enforcement agencies, UN and other international organisations, Media

Hazards: Natural hazards, Man-made non-intentional hazards or emergency situations, Man-made intentional hazards

Cultural Map Entries:

The challenges of respecting human rights in disaster situations

Legal rules may be ignored or violated if they are offensive or contrary to the community's culture

Law embodies culture and formalises its norms while culture conditions, promotes or constrains the adoption of legal rules

The importance of respecting cultural values goes beyond language barriers and diet

The importance of protecting the human rights of indigenous communities and local populations

Work is needed to articulate how to operationalise cultural rights in the events surrounding disasters

The protection and respect for the right to cultural identity and participation in cultural life take various forms

The operationalisation of the right to cultural identity and participation in cultural life in disaster management policies

Education as a cultural right

Operationalisation of the right to education

Discriminatory attitudes in disaster contexts

Protection of minorities in disaster situations

Bulgarian constitutional provisions on human rights

Bulgarian Plan for Disaster Protection language adaptations

Bulgarian evacuation and deconcentration measures in disaster situations

Bulgarian measures for taking care of people who can not do it by themselves

Bulgarian legislation for groups with special needs and different cultural identity

French information measures and features

French local and regional responsibilities for issuing disaster alerts

Italian disaster managers training specificities

Italian Law on Emergency Situations specificities

UK legislation concerning culture and human rights

UK legislation concerning vulnerable groups

EU legislation concerning culture and human rights

Divergences in the translation of culture and cultural factors into disaster management practices

Portuguese legislation concerning culture and human rights

Basic rules for respecting local cultural contexts and needs

General association with cultural factors: Rule of law

Implementation steps:

A. Adopt a concrete overarching policy on rights-based approach in all dimensions of disaster management in Europe. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

B. Such will in effect lead to among others, developing and publishing guidelines on various aspects of human rights, such as data protection, cultural rights protection, etc., in disaster and other emergency management. For example, EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) should consider publishing an opinion on the multi-dimensional relationship between disasters and fundamental rights in Europe. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

C. Draft EU-wide guidelines on privacy and data protection in disaster management, circumscribing the restrictions or limitations to privacy and data protection rights in such situation. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

D. Raise EU citizens’ education and awareness regarding human rights issues in disaster situations and the existing legal framework through detailed information campaigns. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

E. Develop a checklist on what policies and practices exist in respecting rights of victims, duties of authorities. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

F. Draft guidelines on how to protect minorities, religious freedom and traditions, personal and collective intellectual property rights, etc., in disaster management. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

G. Implement legislative norms promoting citizens’ participation/engagement in disaster management to create an enabling environment. Related cultural factor: Rule of law

H. Pay particular attention to ethics, privacy and security when dealing with digital tools for disaster-related purposes. Related cultural factor: Rule of law


Further reading:

Carmalt J and Dale C, “Human Rights and Disasters” in Ben Wisner et al (eds), Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (Routledge 2012).

Council of Europe, Ethical Principles on Disaster Risk Reduction and People’s Resilience (2011), available at: http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/majorhazards/ressources/Apcat2011/APCAT2011_02rev2_Ethical_Principals_EN.pdf, accessed 11 February 2016.

Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and Explanatory Report (1995).

Kälin W and Dale C ‘Disaster Risk Mitigation – Why Human Rights Matter”, (2008) 31 Forced Migration Review.

Levinson J and Domb A, ‘Disaster Victim Identification and Privacy’, (2013) 5 The Privacy and Security Research Paper Series.

Nergelius J, The accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights A critical analysis of the Opinion of the European Court of Justice (SIEPS 2015).

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx, accessed 26 April 2016.

Opinion 2/13 of the Court on Access of the EU to the ECHR (CJEU 18 December 2014).

Palombella G, ‘From Human Rights to Fundamental Rights. Consequences of a Conceptual Distinction’ (2006) Law No. 2006/34 EUI Working Paper.

Reidenberg J et al., Privacy and Missing Persons after Natural Disasters (Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 2013).

Resolution (99) 50 on the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 May 1999).

Recommendation of the Commissioner for Human rights on the Implementation of the Right to Housing, CommDH(2009)5.

Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (2011).

The New Zealand Privacy Commissioner, ‘Civil Defence National Emergencies (Information Sharing) Code 2013’, available at: https://www.privacy.org.nz/the-privacy-act-and-codes/codes-of-practice/civil-defence-national-emergencies-information-sharing-code-2013/, accessed 12 April 2016.

UN OHCHR, Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Situations of Natural Disaster (2005), available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IDPersons/Tsunami.pdf, accessed 22 April 2016

Valencia-Ospina E, Preliminary Report on the Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters (2008) A/CN.4/598.

Venturini G, ‘International Disaster Response Law in Relation to Other Branches of International Law’ in Andrea de Guttry et al. (eds.), International Disaster Response Law (T.M.C. Asser Press 2012).