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The ICRC's mandate and mission

29-10-2010 Overview

The work of the ICRC is based on the Geneva Conventions of 1949, their Additional Protocols, its Statutes – and those of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – and the resolutions of the International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The ICRC is an independent, neutral organization ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. It takes action in response to emergencies and at the same time promotes respect for international humanitarian law and its implementation in national law.

It was on the ICRC’s initiative that States adopted the original Geneva Convention of 1864. Since then, the ICRC, with the support of the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, has constantly urged governments to adapt international humanitarian law to changing circumstances,

in particular to modern developments in the means and methods of warfare, so as to provide more effective protection and assistance for conflict victims.

Today, all States are bound by the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 which, in times of armed conflict, protect wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of the armed forces, prisoners of war and civilians.

Over three-quarters of all States are currently party to the two 1977 Protocols additional to the Conventions. Protocol I protects the victims of international armed conflicts, Protocol II the victims of non-international armed conflicts. In particular, these treaties have codified the rules protecting the civilian population against the effects of hostilities. Additional Protocol III of 2005 allows for the use of an additional emblem – the Red Crystal – by national societies in the Movement.

The legal bases of any action undertaken by the ICRC are as follows:

  • The four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I confer on the ICRC a specific mandate to act in the event of international armed conflict. In particular, the ICRC has the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees. The Conventions also give the ICRC a broad right of initiative.
  • In non-international armed conflicts, the ICRC enjoys a right of humanitarian initiative recognized by the international community and enshrined in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions.
  • In the event of internal disturbances and tensions, and in any other situation that warrants humanitarian action, the ICRC also enjoys a right of initiative, which is recognized in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Thus, wherever international humanitarian law does not apply, the ICRC may offer its services to governments without that offer constituting interference in the internal affairs of the State concerned.

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© ICRC / T. Gassmann / iq-e-00323