2020 Global Citizenship Review

Emergency exemptions

Central African Red Cross Society volunteers construct an isolation unit for people who have suspected cases of COVID-19. © IFRC
Central African Red Cross Society volunteers construct an isolation unit for people who have suspected cases of COVID-19. © IFRC

Emergency exemptions

We analyze emergency decrees to help the IFRC boost pandemic response

Thanks to our work highlighting restrictions or ambiguities in emergency decrees, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world were able to advocate for the exemptions they needed to carry out their activities.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while recognizing that national emergency restrictions and decrees were necessary, the International Federation of Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) had immediate concerns that its National Societies’ efforts to provide pandemic relief would be hindered by the restrictions. Understanding emergency decrees around the world was essential for the IFRC and its National Societies to begin targeted advocacy to remove barriers to assistance. 

Starting in March 2020, more than 200 of our lawyers and legal staff in 33 offices pulled together research on emergency decrees in 77 countries as quickly as possible. 

Key exemptions identified

Thanks to our work highlighting restrictions or ambiguities in emergency decrees, National Societies around the world were better equipped to advocate for the exemptions needed to carry out their activities. For instance, because National Societies store personal protection and other medical equipment in regional hubs to be deployed where needed, restrictions on imports and exports would hamper the delivery of essential supplies to where they were most urgently needed. Likewise, restrictions on travel and assembly could prevent staff and volunteers from reaching out and helping the most vulnerable people.

This is the first time research of this kind has been done with regard to a global public health emergency. And subsequently, the IFRC expanded the initial research project to look at the wider integration of health and natural disaster legislation, as well as the formulation of regulations to support increasingly robust national responses to future emergencies. 

Results published by country

Due to the urgency, we finished the first tranche of research work quickly in March and April 2020. This research provided the IFRC and its member organizations with an overview, by country, of the status of humanitarian organizations. The research also highlighted available exceptions to emergency regulations that would facilitate the work and advocacy of National Societies, like exemptions to travel restrictions, quarantines, curfews and import restrictions. The country results were published on the IFRC’s COVID-19 platform for public reference.

“Given that lawyers are not typically frontline workers, as a team we very much wanted to use the skills we have to nevertheless contribute during such a critical and stressful time,” said London partner Ingrid York, who helped supervise the research. “Credit goes to the associates and trainees across multiple offices for volunteering, and then navigating a rapidly changing environment, to produce such good, and we hope useful, work.”

Expanded to a broader look at health and natural disaster response

Looking beyond the current pandemic, the initial research evolved into a larger piece of work for the IFRC’s Law and Public Health Emergencies Project, which takes a broader view of legal frameworks when responding to public health emergencies. Our work will inform one of the IFRC’s flagship guidance documents that reviews best practices for domestic laws relating to public health emergencies and natural disaster risk management. We contributed in-depth research on 20 of the more than 30 countries covered. Published at the end of 2020, the guidance report supports advocacy and reform efforts as governments take stock of their emergency response framework and legislation in the post-pandemic world. 

Suited to our strengths as a global firm

“On projects like these, and especially in such fast-moving situations, you need a firm that has the language skills and in-country network to rapidly track down the correct, up-to-date information. Time and time again, the White & Case team delivers,” said Isabelle Granger, Legislative Advocacy Coordinator at IFRC. 

“When it came to the longer-term project, we thought we were best placed to build on our previous experience and should just do it,” added Ingrid. “We noted that the crisis had moved on to a different phase, and we were very keen to continue to contribute where we could to such a unique global challenge.”