EU guidelines on the promotion of compliance with international humanitarian law

Updated EU guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law

Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)

The guidelines set out operational tools for the EU to promote compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) through its relations with the rest of the world.

The guidelines are addressed at all those taking action within the context of the EU’s relations with the rest of the world, with a view to limiting the impact of armed conflict on civilians and prisoners. They complement guidelines and other common positions adopted by the EU in relation to human rights (for example on torture and the death penalty).

Article 3(5) TEU lists the values on which the EU is founded, including those that it promotes in the context of its external relations. These values include the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

The guidelines are for public (including EU institutional) or non-state actors (non-governmental organisations, etc.) operating in the EU.

Reducing the effects of armed conflict

IHL is also known as the Law of Armed Conflict or the Law of War. It regulates the means and methods of warfare in order to reduce the impact of armed conflict. Compliance with these legal principles should make it possible to protect persons who are not, or are no longer, taking part in conflicts (such as civilians and prisoners of war).

IHL applies to:

armed conflicts, whether they occur between countries or within a single country, and irrespective of the origin of the conflict; international armed conflicts and internal armed conflicts, however, are subject to different legal regimes;
occupations of territory linked to armed conflicts.

In addition, the international laws on human rights may apply both in times of peace and in times of war. They are complementary to IHL.

Operational guidelines

The EU is committed to the effective implementation of IHL. Firstly, the actors involved must gather detailed information on conflicts and draw up reports, assessments and recommendations for action. This concerns:

European institutions, in particular Council working parties, cooperating with the international organisations concerned, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Organisation and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission;

EU Heads of Mission and appropriate EU representatives (Heads of EU Civilian Operations, Commanders of EU Military Operations and EU Special Representatives). In particular, they should establish cases of serious violation of IHL;
the Council Working Party on Public International Law and the Council Working Party on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid.

The EU has several means of action at its disposal:

political dialogue with non-EU countries, both in the event of conflict and in time of peace;
general public statements by which the EU takes a stand in favour of compliance with humanitarian law;
initiatives and public statements through which the EU condemns situations or particular acts;
restrictive measures and sanctions which may be applied to states or individuals involved in a conflict. Such measures must be appropriate and in accordance with international law;
cooperation with international bodies;
crisis-management operations which may include missions to collect information useful for the International Criminal Court (ICC) or for investigations of war crimes;
the prosecution of individuals responsible for violating international humanitarian law;
the training and education of populations, military personnel and law enforcement officials;
the control of arms sales, in accordance with Common Position 2008/944/CFSP which requires export licences to be subject to compliance with human rights by countries importing arms.

Individual responsibility in the event of conflict

Certain serious violations of international humanitarian law are defined as war crimes. They may occur in the same circumstances as genocide or crimes against humanity. EU countries shall ensure that those responsible for war crimes are brought before their domestic courts, the courts of another country or the ICC.


Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union — Title I — Common provisions — Article 3 (ex Article 2 TEU) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 17)

Updated European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) (OJ C 303, 15.12.2009, pp. 12-17)


Council Decision 2011/168/CFSP of 21 March 2011 on the International Criminal Court and repealing Common Position 2003/444/CFSP (OJ L 76, 22.3.2011, pp. 56-58)

EU humanitarian aid instrument

Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/96 on humanitarian aid

EU humanitarian aid seeks to provide assistance, relief and protection to people affected by natural or manmade disasters and similar emergencies. The focus is on the most vulnerable victims.
This regulation sets out the main goals, principles and procedures for implementing EU humanitarian aid operations.


EU assistance must be:

based on real needs;
directed at people in distress, regardless of nationality, religion, gender, age, ethnic origin or political affiliation;
based on international humanitarian principles and the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.


EU assistance is coordinated by the European Commission’s department for Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

The funding is intended for countries outside the EU.

Sectors covered

Humanitarian aid can be provided in many forms, each depending on the nature of the crisis, including:

food and nutritional support;
medical assistance and psycho-social support;
water supplies and sanitation;
emergency repairs to infrastructure;
Humanitarian aid can also address disaster risk reduction.


The EU, together with its member countries, is the world’s leading humanitarian aid donor. In 2014, some 121 million people from over 80 countries received help from the EU, amounting to over €1.27 billion.

This provided relief in all major crisis regions around the world, including Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and Ukraine.

Coordination with partners

EU humanitarian aid is implemented through over 200 partner organisations, such as United Nations agencies, international organisations like the Red Cross and many non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

To receive funding for a humanitarian project, partner organisations submit funding proposals and follow strict guidelines for evaluating and monitoring projects.

Partners must acknowledge the EU’s support by displaying the EU visual identity at project sites.

And they must closely coordinate their projects, to ensure the assistance is prompt and efficient.

Long-term action

Humanitarian aid is also deployed to boost resilience to future shocks, by providing longer-term development benefits, in line with:

the EU approach to resilience;
this EU policy paper on Relief, rehabilitation and development.

Application & Background

It has applied since 5 July 1996.


For more information, see:

Humanitarian aid;
Humanitarian aid factsheet.


Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/96 of 20 June 1996 concerning humanitarian aid (OJ L 163, 2.7.1996, pp. 1–6)

Successive amendments to Regulation (EC) No 1257/96 have been incorporated in the basic text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Emergency humanitarian support within the EU

Regulation (EU) 2016/369 on the provision of emergency support within the EU

Regulation (EU) 2016/369:

aims to provide a set of rules for emergency humanitarian support* for EU countries during man-made or natural disasters;
comes into play when other instruments prove insufficient;
supports and complements the actions of the affected EU country or countries.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the Council adopted Regulation (EU) 2020/521 activating emergency support measures under Regulation (EU) 2016/369. The activation period is from 1 February 2020 to 31 January 2022.

Key Points

The Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) created under this regulation is based on needs and is meant to preserve life, prevent human suffering and maintain human dignity.
The Council decides on the activation of emergency support under this regulation based on a proposal by the European Commission.

The Commission must monitor actions that have received funding and present an overall assessment of the support provided during a given activation, or proposals to end support, to the Council at the latest 12 months after the activation of the emergency support.

The Commission must ensure that funds used under this regulation are not affected by fraud, corruption or any other illegal activities that may harm the financial interests of the EU.

This regulation is meant to complement other EU funding instruments, such as the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the Internal Security Fund and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived.

Special COVID-19 measures

Through the ESI, the EU is mobilising €2.7 billion. This is to be used to fund emergency healthcare support such as:
jointly procuring, stockpiling and distributing essential resources;
boosting the development of medication and testing methods;
creating temporary hospitals and setting up temporary quarantine facilities; and
assisting the transporting of patients cross-border to hospitals with free capacity.

It will also be possible to fund other actions depending on the evolving needs of EU countries, hospitals, doctors and patients.

The Commission may fund partner organisations, such as non‐governmental organisations, specialised services of EU countries, national authorities and other public bodies, international organisations and their agencies.

The range of potential beneficiaries of financial assistance for implementing ESI-funded actions has been widened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where appropriate and necessary for the implementation of an action, organisations and entities with the necessary expertise, or active in the disaster relief sector may be eligible, such as:
private service providers;
equipment manufacturers; and
scientists and research institutions.

The different options available for procuring supplies and services needed for providing emergency support include:
joint procurement by the Commission and EU countries;
procurement by the Commission on behalf of EU countries;
procurement by the Commission; and
sale, donation or rental of the procured supplies or services to EU countries or partner organisations selected by the Commission.
ESI financing can cover up to 100% of direct and indirect costs related to ESI-funded actions until the end of the activation period.

Direct costs can include:
the purchase, preparation, collection, transport, storage and distribution of goods and services; and
investment costs of actions or projects directly related to achieving the aims of the relevant ESI activation.
To speed up the award and performance of contracts resulting from procurement procedures, the regulation allows for certain derogations to Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046, the EU’s Financial Regulation (see summary).

Application & Background

Regulation (EU) 2016/369 has applied since 16 March 2016.
Amending Regulation (EU) 2020/521 has applied since 1 February 2020.

The main reason for the adoption of this regulation in 2016 was the refugee and migration situation affecting the EU. The EU, and especially Greece, was overwhelmed at the time by the arrival of large numbers of refugees and migrants who required urgent humanitarian assistance. The European Commission allocated almost €650 million from 2016 to 2019 to partner organisations to support refugees and migrants in Greece.

For more information, see:

Emergency support within the EU (European Commission)
Crisis management and solidarity (European Commission).

Humanitarian support: food, shelter, water, medicine and protection measures are some of the types of humanitarian assistance which can be directed to affected populations.


Council Regulation (EU) 2016/369 of 15 March 2016 on the provision of emergency support within the Union (OJ L 70, 16.3.2016, pp. 1-6)

Successive amendments to Regulation (EC) 2016/369 have been incorporated into the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 July 2018 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union, amending Regulations (EU) No 1296/2013, (EU) No 1301/2013, (EU) No 1303/2013, (EU) No 1304/2013, (EU) No 1309/2013, (EU) No 1316/2013, (EU) No 223/2014, (EU) No 283/2014, and Decision No 541/2014/EU and repealing Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 (OJ L 193, 30.7.2018, pp. 1-222)

Communication from the Commission to the Council accompanying the proposal for a Council Regulation on the provision of emergency support within the EU (COM(2016) 116 final, 2.3.2016)

Strengthening the EU’s collective capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to disaster

Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism

The Union Civil Protection Mechanism (the mechanism) seeks to strengthen cooperation between the EU and EU countries, and to facilitate coordination between them, in the field of civil protection.
It introduces a higher quality, more integrated and cost-efficient approach to EU disaster management.
Decision (EU) 2019/420 amends the original decision to strengthen the EU’s collective capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters.

Key Points

The mechanism’s main objective is to improve the effectiveness of systems for preventing, preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters of all kinds within and outside the EU. Although its focus is on protecting people, it also covers the environment and property, including natural heritage.

The mechanism’s specific objectives are to:

achieve a high level of protection against disasters by:
preventing or reducing their potential effects;
fostering a culture of prevention; and
improving cooperation between the civil protection and other relevant services;
enhance preparedness at both national and EU levels to respond to disasters;
facilitate rapid and efficient response in the event of disasters or imminent disasters, including by taking measures to mitigate the immediate consequences of disasters;
increase public awareness and preparedness for disasters;
increase the availability and use of scientific knowledge on disasters; and
step up cooperation and coordination activities at cross-border level and between EU countries prone to the same types of disasters.

Risk prevention and management

Disaster prevention is a major focus of the mechanism with particular emphasis on risk assessment and risk management planning. Amending Decision (EU) 2019/420 requires EU countries to:

further develop the assessment of risk management capability at national or appropriate sub-national level;
provide the European Commission, every 3 years, with a summary of the relevant elements of the assessments, focusing on key risks;
participate, on a voluntary basis, in peer reviews on the assessment of risk management capability.

Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network

To improve training and knowledge sharing, Decision (EU) 2019/420 requires the Commission to establish a network of relevant civil protection and disaster management actors and institutions, including centres of excellence, and universities and researchers. These will form, together with the Commission, a Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network.

The Commission is also tasked with:

strengthening cooperation on training and the sharing of knowledge and experience between the Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network and international organisations and non-EU countries;
developing a communication strategy in order to make the results of the actions taken under the mechanism visible to citizens; and
awarding medals in order to recognise and honour long-standing commitment and extraordinary contributions to EU civil protection.

Emergency Response Coordination Centre

To enhance preparedness and response to disasters at EU level, there is a 24/7 operational Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) managed by the Commission in Brussels. The ERCC is a communication and coordination hub available to civil protection actors.

Additional tools include:

the Common Emergency Communication and Information System (CECIS), an IT tool allowing for immediate emergency communication among the participating countries;
exercises and a training programme to improve EU countries’ disaster response capacity and coordination of civil protection assistance;
civil protection modules: units of personnel and equipment ready to mobilise;
the European Civil Protection Pool: a voluntary pool of pre-committed EU countries’ disaster response capacities, ready to mobilise for EU civil protection operations. This includes high-quality modules of relief teams, experts and equipment, and receives higher rates of EU co-financing.

Amending Decision (EU) 2019/420 also establishes ‘rescEU’, an additional pool of capacities to provide assistance in situations where the overall existing capacities at national level and the capacities previously allocated by EU countries to the European Civil Protection Pool are insufficient to ensure an effective response.

By means of implementing acts, the Commission defines rescEU’s capacities, taking into account

identified and emerging risks; and
overall capacities and gaps at EU level, in particular in the areas of:
aerial forest-fire fighting,
radiological and nuclear incidents, and
emergency medical response.

Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/570 sets out the initial composition of rescEU in terms of capacities and quality requirements. The rescEU reserve so far consists of aerial forest firefighting capacities, medical aerial evacuation capacities, emergency medical team capacities and medical stockpiling capacities.

The Commission has amended Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/570 3 times:

Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/1930 which provides for two different types of medical evacuation (Medevac) capacities respectively for:
disaster victims with highly infectious diseases; and
other disaster victims with non-infectious diseases.
Implementing Decision (EU) 2020/414 in response to the Council conclusions on COVID-19, which brings the stockpiling of medical countermeasures, intensive care medical equipment, and personal protective equipment aimed at combating serious cross-border threats to health within the capacities of rescEU.
Implementing Decision (EU) 2020/452 establishes rescEU capacities to manage low probability risks with a high impact. To establish these capacities, the categories of low probability risks with a high impact are defined, taking into account the possible scenarios for such risks.
Additional implementing rules for rescEU are laid down in Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/1310. This implementing act lays down all the rules needed for a rescEU operation such as the criteria for deployment and conflicting requests, rules on demobilisation, rules on national use and other rules.


Just over €574.02 million have been allocated for the implementation of the mechanism for the 2014-2020 period.


Participation in the mechanism and the various tools listed above is open to European Economic Area (EEA) countries, acceding countries, candidate and potential candidate countries. The EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and Turkey participate in the mechanism.

Application & Background

It has applied since 1 January 2014.


For more information, see:

EU Civil Protection Mechanism (European Commission).


Decision No 1313/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism (OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, pp. 924-947)

Successive amendments to Decision No 1313/2013/EU have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/1310 of 31 July 2019 laying down rules on the operation of the European Civil Protection Pool and rescEU (OJ L 204, 2.8.2019, pp. 94-99)

Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/570 of 8 April 2019 laying down rules for the implementation of Decision No 1313/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards rescEU capacities and amending Commission Implementing Decision 2014/762/EU (OJ L 99, 10.4.2019, p. 41-45)

See consolidated version.

Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/142 of 15 January 2018 amending Implementing Decision 2014/762/EU laying down rules for the implementation of Decision No 1313/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism (OJ L 25, 30.1.2018, pp. 40-48)

Commission Implementing Decision 2014/762/EU of 16 October 2014 laying down rules for the implementation of Decision No 1313/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism and repealing Commission Decisions 2004/277/EC, Euratom and 2007/606/EC, Euratom (OJ L 320, 6.11.2014, pp. 1-45)

See consolidated version.

Commission Staff Working Document: Interim Evaluation of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (2014-2016) accompanying the document Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the Interim Evaluation of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism for the period 2014-2016 (SWD(2017) 287 final, 30.8.2017)


Humanitarian food assistance

European Commission Communication (COM(2010) 126 final) — Humanitarian food assistance

This European Commission communication defines the strategic framework in which the EU provides food assistance in the event of a humanitarian crisis*.

It is presented together with another Commission communication on food security and development.


EU humanitarian food assistance* aims to ensure that sufficient, safe and nutritious food is consumed before, during and after a humanitarian crisis to prevent mortality, acute malnutrition or detrimental coping mechanisms (e.g. where the vulnerable sell off their assets or go into debt).

The specific objectives are:

  1. to safeguard the availability of, access to and consumption of adequate, safe and nutritious food for populations affected by humanitarian crises;
  2. to protect and restore livelihoods and to help improve the resilience of vulnerable groups to future shocks; and
  3. to strengthen the capacity of the international humanitarian aid system in the delivery of food assistance.

This includes:

providing food assistance in the form of cash, vouchers, food products and other commodities or services, skills and knowledge;
complementary interventions like access to fuel, water and hygiene;
restoring basic livelihoods, such as enabling farmers to have access to seeds;
assisting in preventing and treating malnutrition; and
strengthening capacity with enhanced and innovative approaches, tools and training.

The choice of the most appropriate response, including transfer means (e.g. cash or kind), is based on the specific context and is regularly reviewed.


In accordance with the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, interventions in humanitarian food assistance operations:

must respect the fundamental humanitarian principles of
impartiality, and
must be needs- and results-based, flexible, effective and harmless;
should be coordinated with other donors and food security development interventions to:
ensure an optimal coverage of emergency and development needs, and
maximise opportunities for sustainable impact as well as the resilience of food crisis victims.

Assistance operations

EU humanitarian food assistance usually applies when:

emergency rates of mortality or acute malnutrition have been reached or will be reached due to a lack of food, according to forecasts;
there are serious threats to the population or risks of extreme suffering due to a lack of livelihood or bad strategies for coping with the crisis (e.g. sale of productive assets, migration or insecure survival practices).
Nevertheless, food assistance can be provided as soon as a crisis begins, and not only once extreme risks occur.

Normally, humanitarian food assistance is not to be used to address chronic food insecurity*, unless:

the situation presents an imminent and very severe humanitarian risk;
other actors cannot act;
the action may have a positive impact within a short time.
Safe, sufficient and local food

People should have access to safe and well-balanced food of sufficient quantity and quality. The type of food proposed should, if possible, conform to local dietary preferences.


About 795 million people worldwide — or around one person in nine — are hungry, according to the latest UN hunger report (The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015). The number of African countries facing food crises doubled from 12 in 1990 to 24 in 2015. In 2014, the Commission alone provided €349 million in humanitarian funding for food assistance.

For more information, see:

Food assistance on the European Commission’s website

Humanitarian crisis: an event which represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or well-being of people. A humanitarian crisis can result from natural or man-made disasters, can have a rapid or slow onset and can be of short or protracted duration

Humanitarian food assistance: food assistance provided to victims of humanitarian crises

Chronic food insecurity: the persistent inability to access adequate nutrient intake, either on a constant basis or on a periodic, seasonal basis


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — Humanitarian Food Assistance (COM(2010) 126 final of 31.3.2010).


Commission staff working document — Accompanying document to the communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — Humanitarian Food Assistance (SEC(2010) 374 final of 31.3.2010).

EU humanitarian action

Commission communication on the EU’s humanitarian action: new challenges, same principles

Council conclusions on the Commission communication on the EU’s humanitarian action: new challenges, same principles

Through the communication, the European Commission proposes a series of initiatives to strengthen the European Union’s (EU) global humanitarian action in order to meet the substantially rising humanitarian needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conclusions set out the Council of the European Union’s position on EU humanitarian action in response to the communication.


The communication sets out a number of key objectives to address growing humanitarian needs and support a better enabling environment for the delivery of principled humanitarian aid:

providing assistance according to the tried and tested principles of humanitarian aid;
ensuring that EU humanitarian aid can be delivered swiftly and efficiently to those in need, by leveraging innovation and capacities;
promoting flexible and efficient humanitarian action and funding mechanisms, by expanding the use of cash-based assistance and digital tools as well as by stepping up support to local responders;
tackling the root causes of crises by better linking humanitarian, development and peace efforts, in particular in priority areas like education, health, food security, disaster preparedness and climate resilience;
expanding the resource base for humanitarian action, by strengthening EU engagement and alliances with traditional and emerging donors;
enhancing the EU’s engagement and leadership to maximise the impact of the EU’s humanitarian action;
reinforcing the promotion and respect of international humanitarian law and putting it at the heart of the EU’s external action.

Key actions

The communication proposes a number of key actions to address these objectives and accomplish the goals set. These include:

developing a European Humanitarian Response Capacity that would be complementary to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and rely on the operational readiness of the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre;
undertaking systematic joint analyses of crises and develop, when appropriate, joined-up programming and planning of EU policies;
promoting effective humanitarian civil–military coordination to protect the humanitarian space;
increasing multiannual, flexible and harmonised funding arrangements;
stepping up humanitarian funding commitments with Member States and encouraging better responsibility-sharing among traditional and emerging donors to respond to growing humanitarian needs;
increasing the share of climate funds to make disaster-prone regions more resilient;
setting up an EU-level monitoring and coordination mechanism on international humanitarian law;
enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law as a condition for EU assistance;
ensuring that international humanitarian law is fully reflected in EU sanctions policy, including through the consistent inclusion of humanitarian exceptions in EU sanctions regimes;
organising a European Humanitarian Forum to encourage dialogue on humanitarian policy;
promoting a Team Europe approach among EU institutions and Member States.

Council conclusions

In its conclusions on the communication, the Council made a number of key points, including:

its serious concern at the unprecedented scale of humanitarian needs, the shrinking of humanitarian space and the growing funding gap;
the importance of putting respect for and compliance with international humanitarian law consistently at the heart of the EU’s external action, as well as ensuring the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, supporting and promoting principled humanitarian action and safeguarding humanitarian space;
the urgent need to enhance global efforts to significantly increase the resource base for humanitarian action, as well as the importance of delivering humanitarian aid more efficiently with available resources;
the essential coordinating role of the United Nations in responding to humanitarian crises, and the need to step up support for local and national actors, recognising their knowledge and experience as frontline responders that are in place before, during and after emergencies;
its support for the Commission’s plan to organise a European Humanitarian Forum.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the EU’s humanitarian action: new challenges, same principles (COM(2021) 110 final, 10.3.2021)

Council conclusions on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the EU’s humanitarian action: new challenges, same principles, 20.5.2021



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