Our modes of action

Modes of action are the methods or means used to persuade authorities to fulfil their obligations towards individuals or entire populations.

In Libya, during a family reunification operation, people on an ICRC-chartered boat wave to their loved ones as they wait to dock.

How we persuade authorities to fulfill their obligations

Raising awareness

The aim of raising awareness of responsibility is to remind people of their obligations and, where necessary, to persuade them to change their behaviour.

This translates into three methods: 


Persuasion aims to convince someone to do something which falls within his area of responsibility or competence, through bilateral confidential dialogue. This is traditionally the ICRC’s preferred mode of action. 

Seeking outside support:

The organization may also seek outside support, through mobilization of influential third parties (e.g. States, regional organizations, private companies, members of civil society or religious groups who have a good relationship with the authorities in question). The ICRC chooses such third parties with care, contacting only those who we beieve will be able to respect the confidential nature of the information they receive.

Public denunciation:

Faced with an authority which has chosen to neglect or deliberately violate its obligations, persuasion (even with the mobilization of support from influential third parties) may not be effective. In certain circumstances, therefore, the ICRC may decide to break with our tradition of confidentiality and resort to public denunciation. This mode of action is used only as part of the protection approach, which focuses on the imminent or established violation of a rule protecting individuals.

Providing support

If authorities are unable to take action, the ICRC provides support where necessary to enable them to assume their responsibilities.


When the competent authorities do not take or are unable to take appropriate measures (owing to lack of means, unwillingness, or when no such authorities exist), the ICRC takes direct action in their place (substitution) to meet the needs of the people or populations affected. If the situation is critical, the ICRC acts first and then speaks to the authorities to persuade them to take appropriate measures or to help them examine possible solutions.

Our commitment to confidentiality

Derived from two of our Fundamental Principles, neutrality and independence, our practice of confidentiality has deep roots and is critical to our operations on the ground. 

It is the key that opens doors for us that would otherwise remain shut. Without confidentiality, we risk not being able to access people in need and reach places where we need to work. Confidentiality means that we can talk candidly with the people, groups, and parties to an armed conflict or those involved in other situations of violence who otherwise might not be prepared to talk to the ICRC. It means that we can build relationships that are essential to finding solutions and being able to do our work. By adopting a confidential approach, we also avoid the risk of politicizing issues through public debate and we protect the security of our staff in the field and of the communities we assist. 

However, confidentiality does not equal complacency and it isn't unconditional. On some issues we do speak out and may issue denunciations against a particular party. But we only denounce when we have exhausted every other reasonable means of influencing that party, and when these means have not produced the desired result.

For us, this decision is never taken lightly because of the chance that it might undermine the protection and assistance we can provide.

Frequently asked questions

  • Our mission is to protect the lives and dignity of those affected by armed conflict and to provide them with assistance, such as food and clean water, health care and shelter. We also work to prevent and alleviate the suffering of those affected by other situations of violence, such as internal disturbances and tensions.

  • We promote humanitarian values and principles through our advocacy and awareness-raising efforts. We work to raise awareness about the impact of armed conflicts on civilians, advocate for the rights and protection of vulnerable people, and foster respect for international humanitarian law among states, armed groups and other relevant actors. We also engage in dialogue and cooperation with governments and non-state actors to promote the integration of humanitarian principles into policy and practice.

  • Neutrality is a fundamental principle that guides our work. It means that the ICRC maintains a neutral stance and that we do not take sides in armed conflicts or political disputes. This is how we are able to provide humanitarian assistance to people who need help at the front line.