Working for the ICRC: values and principles
ICRC policy on human resources, and information useful for future employees
A distinctive framework for action
ICRC personnel perform their humanitarian mission within a specific framework for action, consisting of:
international humanitarian law (the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols);
the Fundamental Principles and the Statues of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
This framework provides a reference basis. It constitutes one of the characteristics of the ICRC and sets it apart from other humanitarian organizations. It entails special responsibilities for ICRC staff.
The complexity of situations
ICRC staff work in complex, difficult and sometimes dangerous contexts. To act, they must have a thorough understanding of the situation and what is at stake. They must have a professional approach in all circumstances.
The environment they work in encompasses numerous sectors of society: civilians, governmental and non-governmental authorities, armed forces and groups, humanitarian organizations, members of the international community, and so on. ICRC staff must be open and able to talk with the people they come in contact with, without compromising respect for the law or the principles underpinning their work.
Respect for people
ICRC staff work constantly to promote respect for human beings and their dignity, in all their activities, at all times and in all circumstances. They abstain from any discrimination based on origin, race, ethnic group, sex, birth, wealth, religion or belief, political or other opinion, or any other consideration related to the individual.
The ICRC's mission and the circumstances in which it acts require that its staff constantly adopt an attitude reflecting the principles promoted by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, first and foremost those of humanity and impartiality. ICRC staff must conduct themselves in an exemplary fashion, in their professional, private and social lives. The least misstep on their part is picked up and magnified by their environment, and can have serious consequences for many people.
Codes of conduct
ICRC staff, in particular expatriates, must take care never to shock the people with whom - or for whom - they are working. They must be respectful of local customs. Their sensitivity to the environment will ensure that their presence and activities are accepted. The concept of appropriate conduct varies with the context. Each ICRC delegation has a code of conduct that every delegation member is bound to respect. Failure to follow the rules is penalized, and can result in dismissal in the case of serious misconduct.
In contexts marked by distress, the integrity of ICRC staff must be irreproachable. They must take care not to use their function - or the means made available to them by the organization - for personal ends. Any abuse of power or authority, for the purpose of obtaining a personal advantage of any kind, is severely penalized.
Lastly, ICRC staff are obliged to comply with the criminal legislation of the country in which they are working, and expatriates with Swiss legislation. Any unlawful act will result in dismissal.
The pledge of discretion
The effectiveness and success of ICRC action depends on the establishment of a relationship of trust with the authorities and the people in the country. Trust guarantees direct and lasting access to the victims of the conflict. It makes humanitarian activities more readily acceptable and heightens their credibility.
In order to establish that relationship of trust, the ICRC has chosen a working method based on discretion. The rule of discretion, which is strictly defined, consists in the reserved attitude that the ICRC adopts in its public communications. The organization refrains, for example, from talking about what its staff observe in the field. The ICRC is authorized to work in certain contexts precisely because it has pledged to observe discretion. Discretion is an essential part of its operations.
Respect for the pledge of discretion is one of the conditions of working for the ICRC. Everyone must consider himself or herself bound by that pledge, which is akin to one of professional secrecy. The pledge of discretion extends beyond the end of the employer-employee relationship with the ICRC.
Specific modes of action
The ICRC works in countries affected by armed conflicts, or internal disturbances or tension. It bases its operations on the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977, carrying out protection and assistance activities for:
wounded and sick civilians and soldiers;
prisoners of war;
political or security detainees in countries in which it has obtained access to them.
The ICRC has specific modes of action that are based on the law and on custom and draw on the organization's long experience of humanitarian action. Those modes of action are complementary to those of other governmental and non-governmental humanitarian organizations.
The ICRC provides assistance to the victims of conflicts, and as such its activities are ad hoc and carried out on an emergency basis. The aim is to help people survive and to provide them with basic protection. The ICRC is therefore not oriented towards development aid or longterm relief work, both of which are usually carried out by other organizations using a complementary approach.
The ICRC works tirelessly for the application of and respect for international humanitarian law. It regularly reminds the States of their obligations in that respect. But the ICRC is neither a body of inquiry nor a tribunal. If the law is violated, it approaches the authorities confidentially, making discrete verbal or written representations. It has chosen the path of persuasion, taking steps to convince the authorities to accept their responsibility to work for the protection of the victims. This mode of action differs from, but is not in contradiction to, that of the organizations that have opted for public denunciation of violations of international law.
The competence to penalize the perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian law lies with the States party to the Geneva Conventions and with the International Criminal Court.