Protection: Upholding the rights of people affected by conflict

We protect people affected by war and armed conflict by advocating for their rights under the Geneva Conventions and providing life-saving assistance at all stages of hostilities. We also strive to minimize the vulnerabilities of people at risk and ensure that those involved in the fighting comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

An ICRC delegate at a crossing point between front lines during a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

Our protection work that saves lives

At the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), our mission is to alleviate human suffering and promote respect for the rights of people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. As a neutral and impartial organization, we help ensure that the safeguards embedded in international humanitarian law (IHL) are respected, and endeavour to maintain a constant presence in areas where civilians are particularly at risk. We carry out humanitarian action in field operations that help and protect people not or no longer taking part in hostilities, and we seek to ensure their rights are respected by reminding the parties to the conflict of their obligations and responsibilities under IHL through bilateral and confidential dialogue.

Our work to protect the rights of people in conflict

Through diplomacy, dialogue, humanitarian advocacy and the promotion of IHL, we strive to defend the rights of people in conflict and encourage all parties to prioritize the safety of civilians. 

Building understanding of and respect for the law

The Geneva Conventions – the rules of war – protect people who are not or are no longer fighting. States are obliged to comply with the Conventions – which form the core of IHL – to ensure that the rules of war are widely known and understood and that they are respected by all parties to a conflict, as well as their supporters. The ICRC plays an important role in this international endeavour during both peace time and conflict. Through initiatives to promote and strengthen IHL, we remind states of their obligations; we inform young people – future leaders – of IHL and why it is so crucial; and we work with police, the military, public authorities and armed groups to ensure they make their best effort to avoid causing harm to civilians. We also contribute to the ongoing development of IHL – a vital task.

Engaging in confidential dialogue

We hold confidential discussions with governments, armed forces and non-state groups, emphasizing the humanitarian consequences of conflict and reminding them of their obligations. Thanks to our neutral and impartial approach, we are a trusted intermediary, creating an atmosphere of understanding, cooperation and respect. Our ultimate goal is to spare civilians from the horrors of war and to reduce their vulnerability in conflict situations. 

Monitoring compliance with the law

During conflicts, we monitor and promote compliance with IHL by directly discussing allegations of IHL violations with the parties to the conflict. These allegations may be collected from affected people or based on our own observations on the battlefield. Our aim is to stand up for the rights of people not or no longer participating in hostilities – including vulnerable groups such as children, women, the sick and wounded, the dead and their families, those deprived of their liberty and displaced people. We share our findings on potential IHL violations bilaterally and confidentially with the parties to the conflict as a way of encouraging greater respect for IHL on the battlefield. 

Providing legal advice and training

We seek to prevent IHL violations by communicating, developing, clarifying and promoting implementation of the law, as well as through efforts to facilitate acceptance of our work. The ICRC Advisory Service provides specialized legal advice and technical expertise on IHL implementation, covering issues ranging from punishing serious violations of the Geneva Conventions to protecting the use of the red cross, red crescent and red crystal emblems.

Engaging with supporters of parties to conflict

Because wars are often fought with outside support, we engage in dialogue with supporters of the parties to a conflict. Our goal is to ensure they are aware of their obligations under the Geneva Conventions. 

Safeguarding civilian infrastructure

We recognize the devastating impact that attacks on essential infrastructure can have on civilians, especially in urban settings.we work closely with governments, armed groups and other authorities to remind them that civilian infrastructure has a special protection in times of war. We raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding essential infrastructure like hospitals, schools and water and sanitation facilities. We emphasize the need to avoid damaging these structures, to mitigate the suffering of civilians and to preserve access to services necessary for people’s well-being and survival.

Training the armed forces and police

We employ former military and police officers as specialized delegates who work with the armed forces and police. Our aim is to ensure these groups incorporate the relevant rules of IHL into their training programmes and operational procedures. And to enhance their cooperation on the ground, we also explain to them what activities we are carrying out in the country in question.

Seeking to strengthen IHL

To reduce the devastating impact of armed conflict on civilians, we encourage states to adopt new treaties and to continually develop new rules and standards.

Defending the rights of detainees

All people deprived of their liberty have a right to fair treatment and humane living conditions, regardless of the reason for their arrest and detention. Because of our status as a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization, we are able to visit detainees at places of detention where others are not. We conduct interviews in private and submit confidential reports to the authorities and, if necessary, provide material or medical aid to the detainees. We seek to ensure that basic needs are met, that detainees remain in touch with their families and that they are treated respectfully and humanely. We refrain from taking a position on the reasons for the detainees’ arrest or capture. We simply try to ensure that they benefit from the judicial guarantees to which they are entitled under international and domestic law.

Searching for missing people and reuniting separated families

In the chaos of armed conflict, families become separated and people die or go missing. For those left behind, what remains is unbearable suffering and uncertainty. Our Central Tracing Agency and forensic specialists, working with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, help people separated from their loved ones to find answers about the fate of those who are missing. They also provide technical support and, where necessary, help ensure first responders treat the dead with dignity.

Protecting the vulnerable

Among the civilian population, there are certain categories of people who are specifically protected by international law. Our efforts to protect these vulnerable groups focus on enhancing their ability to cope. We do our best to leave these people with the tools they need to live in dignity and safety.

Displaced people

Armed conflict often means large numbers of civilians are forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in their country. In most cases, displaced people have to leave behind all but a few of their possessions. They often lose the means of earning a living too. 


People who flee across international borders, and are recognized as refugees, are entitled to protection and aid from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In such cases, the ICRC plays a support role, particularly where refugees are protected by humanitarian law. We also provide a Red Cross message service that helps refugees get back in touch with family members from whom they have become separated.


Because of conflict and other violence, children may be separated from their families, forced to leave their homes, killed, maimed, sexually abused or exploited. They may also be first-hand witnesses to atrocities committed against their parents or other family members. And, despite their protection by law, children continue to be recruited by armed forces and armed groups in some parts of the world. They often carry weapons and actively take part in the fighting. Or they may be used in other roles that put them in great danger, such as carrying supplies.

Women and girls

The ICRC helps all victims of conflict. But women and girls have specific health, protection and other needs that we seek to address in our activities. We emphasize how women and girls must be protected in conflicts, and we raise awareness among fighters that sexual violence in all its forms is prohibited by humanitarian law.

Our protection work in the aftermath of a conflict

Once a conflict ends, our primary objective is to help people rebuild their lives and communities. Our work, often carried out in partnership with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, helps people overcome the effects of the conflict and build resilience for the future. Our assistance teams continue their efforts to restore or maintain people’s access to health care and other essential services; our weapons specialists work to reduce weapon contamination; our economic security experts seek to help people address the economic hardship they may face as a result of the conflict; and our tracing staff help reunite separated families. 

How our wider work supports and reinforces our efforts to uphold dignity in conflict

Protecting communities from weapon contamination

During armed conflicts and long after they end, civilians can be severely injured or killed by weapons, their remnants and unexploded devices. The preventive weapon-contamination activities carried out by our weapon experts are directly related to our mandate to protect civilians from the effects of armed conflict.

Supporting livelihoods and food security

The difficulties of daily life during armed conflict can drive civilians to the very limits of their coping mechanisms. We work to combat food insecurity and provide emergency relief and longer-term livelihood support to people who need our help owing to armed conflict or other violence.

Addressing sexual violence

Sexual violence is a devastating war crime with damaging consequences for victims and survivors, their families and entire communities. We carry out activities aimed at preventing such crimes, safeguarding potential victims, and assisting affected individuals and groups after the fact. 


War devastates health-care systems, depriving people of access to the services they need. We work with local health authorities to provide people in conflict-affected areas with high-quality health-care programmes within the limits of our resources. 

Physical rehabilitation

Our physical rehabilitation and prosthetic programmes help restore physical function among the war-wounded and people living with disabilities in conflict-affected areas.

Safeguarding public health and other critical infrastructure

Where armed conflict has damaged or destroyed infrastructure essential to human life and safety, our building and engineering projects provide access to clean water, shelter and other services essential for a safer living environment for people affected by armed conflict.