(Adalberto Roque / AFP)
Cubalex, 1 February 2019 — Social media have revealed the many dangerous situations which have had to be coped with by the victims of the tornado which battered the Cuban capital on the night of 27 January 2019. People have suffered devastating consequences, including loss of life, of their means of subsistence, as well as damaged infrastructure and economic costs.
It is worrying that the Cuban government holds back or obstructs the provision of relief to the most needy when the international community provides humanitarian assistance. In view of this situation, we have decided to respond to this question:
Does the state have a duty to protect its citizens before, during, and after a natural disaster?
By virtue of current international law, states are the principal agencies with human rights duties and obligations. International law and common law impose three obligations: the duty to respect, the duty to protect, and the duty to obey.
The duty to protect consists in three responsibilities: (1) prevent, (2) react, and (3) rebuild.
These three obligations have equal application and force in relation to dealing with natural disasters. Complying with them is the minimum that citizens expect at the time of confronting a natural disaster. We have the right to be protected before, during, and after a natural disaster.
The duty to prevent in the context of natural disasters translates as the responsibility to alert people that a natural disaster is imminent. That of reacting is the obligation to recognise when it is not possible to deal efficiently with a disaster and, as a result, the obligation to request assistance from other states.
The intervention of other states is essential to enable a state to recover from a catastrophe. Additionally, even when such intervention has not been requested, other states may proceed in order to bring humanitarian aid without being held responsible for any violation of sovereignty of the state which has been affected, solely as and when the intervention is for this purpose only and not as a pretext for the introduction of armed forces into the affected state.
The fact that a state is lacking sufficient resources does not justify violations of human rights, as there is always the opportunity to make use of international relations with other states to combat a humanitarian crisis resulting from natural disasters.
Lastly, the duty to rebuild refers to the responsibility on the part of the state to ensure sustainable reconstruction and restoration.
Following the disaster, the state has the obligation to seek assistance from the United Nations and from other countries to enable short term and long term reconstruction plans; to assure that the areas affected are once again rendered habitable and safe for people.
In earlier times, when human rights were still considered to be an internal matter for each country, the intervention of other states and the international community was resisted.
Nowadays, this attitude has in large part been replaced by a responsibility, in which states are considered to be responsible for the wellbeing of their people. That is to say, the state has the responsibility to protect the population, especially in the face of natural disasters.
The UN Charter obliges its member states to “take measures jointly and separately, in cooperation with the organisation, for the accomplishment of the objectives set out in Art. 55”, which promotes respect for the human rights and fundamental liberties of all persons subject to its jurisdiction, without any form of discrimination.
First published in Cubalex.
Translated by GH
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