The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, co-operation and lasting peace amongst all people.
The principle of humanity expresses what the Movement places beyond anything else: the need to act in order to prevent and alleviate human suffering. Respect for human dignity and helping people – regardless of who and where they are – is paramount to everything we do.
It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.
Non-discrimination is one of the most important aspects of protecting human beings in human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. Sadly, there are many factors for which people are discriminated against. The text of this principle does not include an exhaustive list of factors. But it makes clear that no group of people will be denied services or receive preferential treatment based on anything other than their needs.
Only by acting with impartiality can we ensure the Movement is trusted by all people to assist and protect them. We therefore have systems in place to ensure we deliver our support based on people’s needs alone and prioritise the most vulnerable at all times.
In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.
The Movement must not take sides, or be regarded as doing so, either in its speech or actions at any time or place. Neutrality ensures the Movement has the confidence of all and can provide humanitarian support to all.
Embodying the principle of neutrality at all times ensures the Movement can provide medical assistance to civilians and wounded or detained fighters during hostilities without being perceived as interfering in conflict. It is of the utmost importance that all parties in a conflict understand and respect the humanitarian role of a National Society.
The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.
The principle of independence means that the Movement must resist any interference – be it political, ideological or economic – capable of diverting it from embodying the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality.
It is only by being truly independent that the Movement can respect these principles. Independence not only relates to the relationship between National Societies and States, but also between National Societies and any other forms of power or influence, such as religions, political parties, companies and so on.
It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.
The principle of voluntary service represents the common motivation uniting all those working within the Movement: a desire to help others. It is both a source of inspiration and a statement of solidarity.
Whether members volunteer without pay or with some form of acknowledgement or even modest remuneration, it is not inspired by desire for financial gain but by individual commitment and devotion to the humanitarian purpose. This is freely chosen and accepted as part of the service the Movement provides to the community.
There can be only one Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.
Having only one Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in any given country ensures it can work efficiently. It avoids any risk of confusion in the public mind and means all people and communities are represented by one organisation.
A National Society must be active in all parts of the country so that even the hardest-to-reach communities can benefit from support when needed. This doesn’t mean that the level of activities must always be the same country-wide – the principle of impartiality may justify that certain areas need more support where the needs are greater.
Similarly, National Societies must not discriminate when recruiting volunteers. They must ensure their membership includes a broad spectrum of people across the population so that humanitarian assistance is delivered to all people, by all people.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.
The universality of suffering requires a universal response. It is one of the Movement’s great strengths that we are present in virtually every country in the world through our 191 member National Societies.
This principle also means that National Societies have a collective responsibility to support each other’s development and to work together in partnership and solidarity during disasters, for the benefit of all.
When it comes to decision-making within the Movement, the principle of universality ensures that all National Societies have an equal vote during Statutory Meetings irrespective of their size or wealth.