The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.


A mandate is the authority conferred on an individual or an organization to carry out certain tasks. The mandate thus links the one entrusted with the duties to the mandator, on whose behalf the actions are performed. The mandator always maintains a degree of control over the implementation of the mandate.

The term mandate is frequently used by intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations in reference to the goals of each organization. The mandate should also enable outsiders to identify on whose behalf and on what authority each organization acts and to which organization it is accountable.

Intergovernmental Organizations

In the international arena, States have entrusted intergovernmental organizations with the implementation of a number of missions of common interest. The mandate established in the charter or statute of an organization sets out the goals chosen by the founding States.

Such international organizations must report regularly on the implementation of their mandate to a plenary organ where the Member States are represented. In the realm of humanitarian action, States have officially mandated several agencies or organizations to carry out certain specific activities—namely, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, OCHA, ICRC, and so on.

Nongovernmental Organizations

In the private sphere, NGOs or humanitarian associations act on behalf of individuals. NGOs establish their own goals and set up the structure that will enable them to achieve their aim through concrete action. They must also report on their activities to their board of directors, the general assembly of their members (in the case of an association), or any other body to which they are accountable.

Food and Agricultural Organization of the United NationsNongovernmental organizationsUnited NationsUnited Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesUNICEFWorld Food ProgramWorld Health Organization

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