The Reference Guide is intended for use by OCHA staff, particularly those in the field, so that their work can be better informed by United Nations legislative decisions. The Reference Guide serves as a tool for their interaction with concerned governments and other relevant parties in strengthening understanding of and support for a more principled, accountable and effective humanitarian response. It can also be useful for other humanitarian practitioners as well as for Member States who are interested in a concise presentation of United Nations legislative decisions related to humanitarian assistance.


The Reference Guide presents the precise language found in United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and General Assembly (GA) resolutions and decisions. ( 1 ) The Guide is organized to follow largely the structure of GA resolution 46/182 and is presented in 16 thematic categories. ( 2 ) The categories are grouped into three sections. The first section includes issues pertaining to humanitarian principles and the overall framework of assistance; the second section addresses the linkage between humanitarian response, disaster reduction and transition; and the third section examines humanitarian coordination and related tools and mechanisms, including humanitarian financing.

Within each category, are sub-categories which reflect the addressees of the operating paragraphs of resolutions. While it is not possible to always make a clear distinction, these sub-categories are:

  • Overarching principles, policies and guidelines
  • Dispositions addressed to Member States
  • Dispositions addressed to the United Nations and/or the humanitarian system in general
  • Dispositions addressed to specific actors

Within each sub-category, the resolution paragraphs are presented in chronological order showcasing the normative evolution over time. Within each paragraph, essential elements are marked in bold.


While there have been numerous resolutions adopted by the United Nations intergovernmental bodies on humanitarian issues since 1946, this Reference Guide focuses on a select number of relevant resolutions by the GA and ECOSOC on humanitarian coordination and assistance since GA resolution 48/182 in 1991. Within these, with the exception of some key passages on humanitarian principles (which draw from both preambular and operative paragraphs), the Reference Guide only draws from operative paragraphs of the texts. The Reference Guide focuses on humanitarian coordination resolutions: the GA and ECOSOC resolutions entitled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assis- tance of the United Nations”, as well as the GA resolution “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”. For other resolutions, only the most relevant parts which refer to issues of particular relevance to coordination and humanitarian principles, have been included. The Reference Guide does not include intergovernmental decisions adopted for specific humanitarian emergencies and disasters.

The Guide uses a short form of the title of each referenced resolution as follows:

  • Strengthening Coordination for the GA’s “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”
  • ECOSOC Strengthening Coordination for ECOSOC’s “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”
  • Cooperation in Natural Disasters for “International cooperation on humani- tarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”
  • Safety and Security for “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel”
  • Protection of and Assistance to IDPs for “Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons”
  • NIHO for “New International Humanitarian Order”
  • Military and Civil Defence Assets for “Improving the effectiveness and coordination of military and civil defence assets for natural disaster response”
  • INSARAG for “Strengthening the effectiveness and coordination of international urban search and rescue assistance”

For this Guide, resolutions are referenced with symbols as follows:4

  • General Assembly resolutions:
    • GA / resolution / session number / document number, paragraph (year)
      e.g. A / RES / 46 / 182, op1 (1991)
  • ECOSOC resolutions:
    • ECOSOC / year / decision or resolution number, paragraph
      e.g. E / 2010 / 1, op1

It should be noted that all legislative decisions taken in ECOSOC and the GA are equally binding on the United Nations Secretariat, and those United Nations funds and programmes which are accountable to these principal organs. The resolutions are recommendatory on Member States. It has been common practice for Member States to adopt resolutions on humanitarian issues by consensus, giving the texts more prominence and weight.

(1) In relation to the protection of civilians and resolutions by the Security Council in this regard, see the OCHA “Aide Memoire — For considerations of issues pertaining to the protection of civilians in armed conflict” (2011), available at

(2) The category of “Gender, vulnerable groups” is new in this updated version.