Skip to main content

The Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: Ethics and tools for humanitarian action [EN/AR/RU/ZH]

+ 1 more
Publication date
View original


Imagine you are a Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteer. Your country is going through a brutal civil war and your job is to treat anyone who is sick or wounded. But in order to get your patients to hospital, you have to navigate your ambulance through a series of government and opposition-run checkpoints. At the first checkpoint, a soldier demands to know who is in the ambulance. When he finds out your patient is a man from an opposition-controlled area, he refuses to let you through and accuses you of “helping the enemy.” What do you say? How do you convince him that your job is to help everyone affected by the war regardless of which side they’re on?

Now imagine that there’s been a catastrophic flood and you’re in charge of organizing teams to deliver food to survivors. Politicians and the media are pressuring your organization to get results, and fast. They are also making claims about who should receive aid first. How do you decide who to help first? What do you base your decision on? These difficult situations are commonplace for Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers around the world. Fortunately, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has developed solid tools to help.

The seven Fundamental Principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality – are the most important of these tools. They serve both as an inspiration – an ideal to strive for – and as practical steps to take to achieve that ideal in times of peace, armed conflict or natural disaster. They call on us to help those most in need first, regardless of their political affiliation, race or religion, and they make this possible by providing guidance on gaining the trust of people in all these circumstances.

When the principles are understood and followed, Movement volunteers and staff generally find that people let them carry out their work to help those in need, even during conflict. However, at times, they are held up at checkpoints, detained or even killed.

This is why it is imperative that people around the world understand the Fundamental Principles. People need to know that the humanitarian aid we provide does not have strings attached. For instance, an armed group must be able to trust that ICRC delegates want to enter territory under their control exclusively to help those in need and will not take sides. Likewise, people around the world who donate their time or money to a National Society need to know that their support is going to help only the most vulnerable.

The Fundamental Principles are also an expression of the values and ideals around which the Movement is united. Above all, the Principles are a call to action for Movement volunteers and staff, compelling us – as the Principle of humanity describes – to “prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found.”