Neutral intermediary: Our role, saving lives

The ICRC's neutral approach is a critical tool that enables us to help people in some of the world's most dangerous and complex environments, places that many other organizations do not have access to.

People embrace and shed tears during a prisoner release operation in Yemen, facilitated by the ICRC as a neutral intermediary.

The principle of neutral intermediary

Neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action in armed conflict and internal violence is at the heart of our mandate and a fundamental part of our identity. The ICRC seeks dialogue with all the actors involved in a given situation of armed conflict or internal violence as well as with the people suffering the consequences to gain their acceptance and respect. This approach generally gives us the widest possible access both to the victims of the violence and to the actors involved. It also helps to ensure the safety of our staff. In this way, we are able to reach people on all sides of the front lines in active conflict areas around the world.

Our role as neutral intermediary follows on from this. By not taking sides in conflicts and remaining impartial and independent, we are better able to carry out our mission to protect and assist those in need while bridging divides and facilitating humanitarian action. In many cases, this entails negotiating humanitarian access with the relevant parties – for example, to reach battlefields or hospitals – to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian services to people who are suffering because of the conflict.

Our work as a neutral intermediary

The ICRC is able to act as a neutral intermediary thanks to the mandate conferred on it under international humanitarian law and its own Statutes, which set out our Fundamental Principles, including impartiality, neutrality and independence.

We talk to numerous stakeholders and can act as a neutral intermediary between many different types of actors. In the ICRC’s approach to furthering humanitarian action, there are no “good” or “bad” stakeholders; we talk to everyone with the aim of alleviating suffering in conflict. However, we can only act with the agreement of the parties involved.

Restoring family links

Organizing the exchange of family news across front lines and borders and, where appropriate, arranging for family reunifications brings our neutral intermediary role into play. Working with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, we deliver hundreds of thousands of Red Cross messages every year. They are often the only means of contact between family members separated by front lines or borders and between families and their detained relatives.

Prisoners of war, detainees and hostages

We work as a neutral intermediary between conflicting parties to facilitate the release or exchange of prisoners of war, detainees and hostages, allowing them to return to their families.

Evacuations and repatriations of civilians

We can facilitate the evacuation of civilians or wounded people from locations where active fighting is taking place. We can also enable civilians to cross front lines or be supplied across front lines with items they need for their survival. 

Assistance and other services

We act as a neutral intermediary to deliver assistance and services to those who need them in armed conflict situations. These services could include medical support, engineering projects to repair damaged water pipes and essential services, the delivery of food, economic support and information campaigns about weapons, such as landmines, that are a threat to the population. 

Supporting the peace process

We can facilitate humanitarian dialogue among parties involved in conflicts. Our neutral status and acceptance allow us to act as a bridge between conflicting parties, creating a space where dialogue can occur and agreements can be reached to ensure the well-being of those affected by conflict. 

Recent examples of how our work as a neutral intermediary saves lives

In the conflict in Yemen, the ICRC has played a crucial role in facilitating humanitarian aid delivery and medical assistance. We have been instrumental in negotiating ceasefires to allow for the safe passage of aid and medical personnel. In 2019 and again in 2023, we brokered a deal for the exchange of detainees between the warring parties, allowing hundreds of families to be reunited.


The ICRC was involved in mediating the evacuation of nearly 300 children from an orphanage in Khartoum, after 60 children died there. We also facilitated communication between opposing parties to negotiate safe corridors for civilians, humanitarian aid and humanitarian workers.


The ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary to facilitate the evacuation of over 100 civilians, including women, children and the elderly, from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in May 2022 after they had spent two months sheltering in an underground bunker amid heavy fighting in the besieged city.


The ICRC has been actively engaged in Syria, where a protracted conflict has caused immense suffering. We have negotiated local ceasefires and temporary truces to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, including in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2023. The ICRC has also worked to facilitate the exchange of prisoners between different groups involved in the conflict.