Hurricane Relief and International Legal Skills: Is there a link?

The devastation of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean was heartbreaking. News reports with aerial views of ravaged islands, report that some of those tiny islands (like St. Martin) are no longer habitable. Relief agencies will be there for years, trying to restore the region.

One major hurricane relief agency, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is airlifting aid to the region, the WFP states in a recent press release that:

WFP is providing some 30 metric tons of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed more than 17,000 people for three days. These are being airlifted by WFP from Haiti to the hub in Antigua (where the population of Barbuda has been evacuated) and to nearby St. Martin.

When I see such agencies at work, I always wonder whether they need the assistance of legal professionals in their operations. A quick look at the job vacancies for WFP shows they do. A visit to the WFP website shows that they regularly recruit professionals who can conduct legal research and analysis. For example, the agency is recruiting a legal intern. The first paragraphs of the advertisement looks like a course description for the first-year legal skills course.


The first task described is:

Carry out research in relation to the interpretation of WFP’s regulations and rules and the jurisprudence of the international tribunals, such as the International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal and the UN Dispute Tribunal.

Research, analysis of decisions – a typical first-year law student endeavor. Find the law and compare to a set of given facts (in this case, the rules of the WFP itself). Here, the skills demand an international context – the standards to be consulted are ILO and UN Dispute Tribunal jurisprudence. These are specialist sources in International law. A truly prepared professional will know how to find and analyze such jurisprudence.

A second task is described as:

Assist in the drafting, review and negotiation of commercial contracts and agreements with governments, UN agencies, international organizations, NGOs and cooperating partners, in relation to food- and cash-based activities and other activities in line with WFP’s mandate.

Drafting, another important legal skills. But, here, they need contract drafting in the context of UN agencies and International Organizations and NGOs. This is an important duty for practitioners with an international focus.

The WFO is one fine example of an agency that is making a difference in humanitarian relief. Their staff members need to use legal skills while carrying out their duties. These skills are carried out in an international context.

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Legal Skills Lecturer in The Netherlands. (J.D. Columbia University; PhD Maastricht University International Human Rights Law.)

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