What is the ICRC?

The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization. We have a mandate to help and protect people affected by armed conflict and other violence or – as our mission statement puts it – “other situations of violence.” By “other violence” or “other situations of violence” we mean violence that has not reached the threshold of an armed conflict but is carried out by large groups and has consequences in humanitarian terms. This mandate was given to us by States through the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005 and the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement of 1986.

Our mandate and legal status sets us apart from both intergovernmental organizations (such as the specialized agencies of the United Nations) and non-governmental organizations. This status allows us to function independently from governments and to serve, with complete impartiality, the people most in need of protection and assistance.

In times of crisis, the ICRC does everything it can to help people meet their daily needs. In Ukraine, we supplied flour to local bakeries to make bread. We handed out the loaves, together with the Ukrainian Red Cross, to people displaced by the fighting.

What we do

The ICRC’s actions are aimed at protecting the lives, health and dignity of people affected by violence. In doing so, the ICRC takes a holistic, integrated approach in which three distinct areas of action – protection, assistance and prevention – are closely interlinked. Work done in any one of these areas informs, reinforces and complements actions taken in the others.


We help people affected by armed conflict and other violence by providing water and shelter; fostering economic security; improving health care (including war surgery and care for detainees); ensuring proper handling and identification of the dead; and helping victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance.


The ICRC strives to safeguard the life, health and dignity of civilians affected by armed conflict and other violence, including detainees. We do this by encouraging government authorities and other groups to shoulder their responsibilities under international humanitarian law and other rules that protect people affected by violence.


The ICRC takes action at the global, regional and local levels to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. We work to raise awareness on critical issues of humanitarian concern.

In much of our work, we cooperate closely with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other key partners in humanitarian action.

Story of discovery

Engineering Solutions

Water-and-habitat engineer Khaled Mushara has long worked to improve the lives of his fellow countrymen in Yemen. Before joining the ICRC in 2012, he worked for a development agency improving the country’s road system. He recalls how, when he first heard of the ICRC, he was a bit wary of the Swiss organization and its distinctive red cross emblem.

“At first,” he recalls, “I thought ‘What do they do? Are they really humanitarians or are they here to try and change people’s religion?’ But when I looked into it, and learned for myself what the ICRC was all about, I discovered it was really something very different.”

What Khaled discovered, he says, was an organization committed to helping the most vulnerable people, regardless of their race, creed or religion. “The way the ICRC sees it: If you’re a human being, you deserve to live. It was a great change in my thinking about the ICRC.”

Since then, he has seen how our principles of impartiality and neutrality allow us to reach people in areas directly affected by fighting. “This is because all the groups involved in the conflict trust the ICRC to be neutral, not to take sides. So we can work where others can’t.”

Water-and-habitat engineer Khaled Mushara

Projects have to be sustainable. This approach has won the ICRC my respect. We really care about our projects helping people over the long term.

Khaled Mushara works to provide pumps, pipes and water tanks to local communities, set up temporary water-distribution points and repair and upgrade hospitals, electrical systems and irrigation systems damaged by conflict.

Who we are

Around the world, there are more than 11,500 people who, like Karima, work for the ICRC in their own country. These invaluable staff members carry out the bulk of our work, contributing their locally acquired knowledge and skills.

Growing numbers of staff recruited in one country are also being sent to work in delegations in other countries. Today we have over 1,800 expatriate staff members working in the field. Half of them are delegates, i.e. the men and women who carry out visits to detainees, design and implement aid programmes and promote knowledge of and compliance with international humanitarian law. The others are specialists, such as doctors, nurses, engineers, IT specialists, veterinarians, agronomists, interpreters and administrators.

Many ICRC employees have experienced the consequences of conflict first hand. Having lost a leg herself, Karima (left), understands what her patients are going through.

Story of discovery

A new career for Karima

When Karima (above) was just 12 years old, she and her brother were caught in cross-fire during fighting near their house in Kabul, Afghanistan. Four bullets pierced her leg, requiring an immediate amputation just above the knee.

Back then, the ICRC represented one thing to Karima: a chance to walk again. What she ended up discovering was a new life and a new career. “I came to the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation centre to have a prosthesis made and learn to walk on it. But later, when I returned to have it repaired, the centre was looking for physiotherapists.”

Now, almost two decades after losing her own leg, Karima is a physiotherapist and helps run the centre in Kabul. She helps the young and old alike in learning to cope with disabilities, adjusting to prosthetics, and strengthening wounded limbs.

Stories of discovery

This is just one example of how people around the world come to discover the ICRC. And it shows how staff members such as Khaled work with local communities to discover new ways to meet our basic goal – alleviate the suffering caused by war. In this booklet, you will discover the ICRC through stories about people such as Khaled and through short explanations of exactly what the ICRC is, what we do, and how, when, where and why we take action.