With a view to transcending purely philanthropic or political approaches to disaster relief overlooking the entitlement of victims of a catastrophe to be assisted, this article analyses humanitarian assistance from a human rights perspective. Humanitarian aid operations are presented as the result of the interaction between the human rights of people affected by disasters and the corresponding governmental obligations. A distinction is made between the current scenario of disaster relief in which the relevant rights are the ones to life, food, health and medical services, water, adequate housing and clothing, and a prospective regime in which a human right to receive humanitarian assistance is recognized by the international community. The juxtaposition of the two regimes highlights the differences in the levels of protection they afford. It also proves that, in both cases, the adoption of a human rights-based approach safeguards affected people by empowering them to challenge governmental decisions to refuse international aid and by placing under international scrutiny the measures taken by sovereign States to protect their populations in the aftermath of catastrophes.