Research Handbook on Disasters and International Law
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Research Handbook on Disasters and International Law

Edited by Susan C. Breau and Katja L.H. Samuel

International law’s role in governing disasters is undergoing a formative period in its development and reach, in parallel with concerted efforts by the international community to respond more effectively to the increasing number and intensity of disasters across the world. This Research Handbook examines a broad range of legal regimes directly and indirectly relevant to disaster prevention, mitigation and reconstruction across a spectrum of natural and manmade disasters, including armed conflict.
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Chapter 18: The protection of vulnerable groups

Mary Crock


Disasters are not equal in their impact. The very old, the very young, the sick, the wounded, person with disabilities and, in some circumstances, women and minority groups, can face particular and acute challenges. This chapter explores how international law has responded to vulnerability in emergency situations. The genesis and evolution of legal norms governing the protection of various groups of vulnerable people in disaster situations are explored. The chapter is organized around two main arguments. First, relevant international legal norms are very much work in progress, having developed first in response to human conflict and epidemics. Legal norms and practices to govern responses to natural disasters are recent and ill-defined. Secondly, international human rights law has moved away from charity, paternalist and medical models of protection towards a rights-based framework for all vulnerable groups – from women and children through persons with disabilities to minority groups.

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