How we are accountable to the people we help

People caught up in armed conflict and other violence take active part in their own recovery. We are there to listen and give support.

Wusab Assafil district, Yemen: An ICRC staff member answers beneficiaries' questions about the ICRC and the ongoing distribution for internally displaced persons.

Accountability in our work

Humanitarian organizations help some of the world's most marginalized people. Under normal circumstances, such organizations can be held to account by citizens, the government and, critically, by the people who use their services. But in conflict settings – like those in which the ICRC operates – the power dynamics between humanitarian organizations, local bodies and community members are mostly unbalanced, which hampers trust and collaboration.

Being accountable to the people we serve makes it harder for this power asymmetry to be exploited. It also ensures that humanitarian programmes are relevant, inclusive and accessible to those most in need. It gives marginalized people a voice in how our responses are designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated. 

Being accountable to people affected by armed conflict and other violence is not only a way for the ICRC to carry out our work in an ethical and socially responsible manner, but also an effective means of building trust and acceptance, which ultimately deepens the impact and relevance of our work.

Our approach

Since its founding, the ICRC has put people at the centre of its humanitarian work, which is underpinned by our seven Fundamental Principles and the directive to “do no harm”. Our people-centric approach was formalized in 2018 with the adoption of an institutional framework. The framework sets out a common understanding of what accountability to people affected by violence means across the ICRC, and it defines the key elements of accountability to which our organization is committed.

We aim to ensure that our humanitarian work builds up people’s resilience in situations of vulnerability and crisis, and leads to the best possible outcomes for them. This includes safeguarding people's right to equitable access to assistance (according to their needs, priorities and preferences), their right to information, and their right to participate in and provide feedback on decisions that affect them.

We also pursue technological means of increasing our proximity to people (both digitally and physically) while ensuring their data is protected, in line with the principle of doing no harm.

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

To be people-centric, we must recognize diversity within communities – people's experience of armed conflict and their ability to cope with its effects and access the help they need are shaped by their sex, gender, age, any disabilities and other context-specific factors.

To that end, we engaged an independent think tank in 2020 to help us develop a comprehensive approach to inclusive programming that strengthens our relevance and effectiveness, and to define the processes and systems required to implement it.

In June 2020, we adopted Vision 2030 on Disability, which sets a collective goal and related objectives for various ICRC departments to promote greater inclusivity for disabled people, both in our response to armed conflict and other violence and within our organization.

In line with our Code of Conduct, we are committed to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. It is an ethical and contractual obligation for all ICRC staff and is essential to maintaining the trust of people that we aim to serve.

The commitments outlined in our institutional strategies and policies were developed in line with related initiatives in the humanitarian sector, including but not limited to the Grand Bargain Participation Revolution and the Global Disability Summit.

As part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, we bolstered our efforts to engage with communities, particularly to prevent the spread of disease and ensure that already-marginalized people were included in our response and would not be left further behind.

How 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 when they are unsatisfied with the services we provide. It is also the ICRC's responsibility to make sure that communities know what they can expect from its staff.

For general inquiries

Contact ICRC Headquarters

To report potential misconduct

Please use the IntegrityLine or write an email to

Frequently asked questions

  • 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”. When we talk about other 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 of governments and to serve, with complete impartiality, the people most in need of protection and assistance.

  • The ICRC is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which also comprises 191 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

    The ICRC works closely with National Societies and the IFRC to ensure a concerted, efficient and rapid response to conflict or violence. The Movement is the largest humanitarian network in the world.