Accountability to affected people

People affected by conflict and other situations of violence are actors in their own recovery. The International Committee of the Red Cross is there to listen and support.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on people worldwide, particularly on women. These women in Gaza working for a pea-growing project had to be creative to promote their product. Abed Zagout/ICRC

Humanitarian agencies provide services to some of the world's most marginalised people. Under normal circumstances, service providers can be held to account by citizens, the government and, critically, by the end-users. But in conflict settings – like those in which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) works – the power dynamics between humanitarian organizations, local bodies and community members are mostly unbalanced, hampering trust and collaboration.

Accountability to affected people is an approach that reduces the opportunities for this power asymmetry to be exploited and ensures humanitarian programmes are relevant, inclusive and accessible to those most marginalized.

In doing so, it accounts for the voice of affected people in how a response is designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated. Being accountable to people affected by conflict and other violence is not only a way for the ICRC to carry out its work in an ethical and socially responsible manner, but also an effective means to build trust and acceptance, which ultimately enhances the impact and relevance of its work.

Our approach

ICRC's approach on Accountability to Affected People

Since its foundation, the ICRC has put people at the centre of its humanitarian work, underpinned by the Fundamental Principles and the "do no harm" principle. The ICRC's people-centric approach was formalised in 2018 with the adoption of an institutional framework. This framework sets out a common understanding of what accountability to affected people means across the organization and defines key elements of accountability to which the ICRC is committed.

It aims to ensure that while protecting and preserving the rights and dignity of people affected by conflict, the ICRC's humanitarian actions increase their resilience to face situations of vulnerability and crisis and lead to the best possible outcomes and results for them. This includes people's rights to equitable access to assistance (in proportion to their needs, priorities and preferences), their right to information, and their right to provide feedback and participate in decisions that affect them.

I thought I was too old to learn a new skill, but with hard work and a will to give my children a better life, I could do it,

says Gulshah, a 51-year-old female head of household who has set up her own small business through the ICRC's Economic Security programme. Read more about her story.

In doing so, the ICRC also pursues technological means to increase its proximity (digital and physical) to people, while ensuring their data is protected in line with the principle of "do no harm".

More information on the different approaches to increasing digital proximity can be found in How to Use Social Media to Engage with People Affected by Crisis, Humanitarian Futures for Messaging Apps, and Using Radio as a Means of Operational Communication and Community Outreach.

To be people-centric, it is imperative to recognize diversity within communities, as people's experience of armed conflict, their ability to cope with its effects and access assistance are shaped by their sex, gender, age, impairment and other context-specific factors.

To that end, the ICRC engaged an independent think-tank in 2020 to accompany the development of a comprehensive approach to inclusive programming that strengthens its relevance and effectiveness, and to define the processes and systems required to implement such an approach.

In June 2020, the ICRC adopted Vision 2030 on Disability, which establishes a collective goal and complementary objectives for different ICRC departments to promote greater inclusivity of people with disabilities in the ICRC's response to armed conflicts and other situations of violence, and within the ICRC's workforce.

Wheelchair basketball has changed my life. It is helping me build my confidence and has given me a sense of strength. It has become my ultimate source of happiness,

says Woubrist Getnet, a person living with a disability and whose love for this game is unparalleled. Read more about her story.

Upholding its Code of Conduct, the ICRC is committed to the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA). It is not only an ethical and contractual obligation for all ICRC staff, but an essential means for the organization to maintain the trust of people that it aims to serve.

The commitments outlined in different institutional strategies and policies were developed in line with relevant initiatives in the humanitarian sector, including but not limited to the Grand Bargain's "participation revolution" and the Global Disability Summit.

As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, the ICRC reinforced its efforts to engage with communities, particularly to prevent the spread of disease among them, and to ensure that people already marginalized were included in its response and would not be left further behind.

Ways to get in touch

People may be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse if they do not know what they are entitled to, what behaviours they can expect from aid workers, how to contact the ICRC or how to complain if they are not satisfied with the services provided. It is also the ICRC's responsibility to make sure that affected people know what to expect from its staff.

A man, beneficiary of the ICRC cash grants programme, watches his phone. A text message confirms that cash has been sent by the ICRC. Abdikarim Mohamed/ICRC