• Send page
  • Print page

Strengthening the Capacity to Assist and Protect the Most Vulnerable Groups

15-09-1995 Report

Commission II: humanitarian values and response to crises, 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

1. Introduction

 1. Introduction  

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) is at an important stage in its evolution. It is faced with changing world events that call for ever greater efforts on its part to provide services to improve the human condition at the local, national and international levels. At the same time, the public perception of the nature and role of the Movement is also changing. Its activities are more diversified than a generation ago, its capacity and also the needs it is seeking to address are greater, and new actors are becoming involved in humanitarian work.

Through its three components - the 163 recognised National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross - the Movement is responding to these multiple challenges with a variety of measures. This paper provides an overview of the steps being taken to ensure that the Movement as a whole continues as a leading humanitarian organisation into the next century. This it can only fully achieve, however, by forging a renewed and active partnership with governments.

Section 2 briefly reviews current global socio-economic trends and their implications for the work of the Movement. Section 3 discusses the special features and general situation of the National Societies today. Section 4 looks at the main sectoral activities of National Societies, and stresses that the se represent a significant and cost effective contribution to national development efforts which can and must be expanded further. Section 5 outlines some of the measures that the Movement itself is taking to strengthen its capacity and performance in order to enhance the effectiveness of its international network. Section 6 sets out some principles for an optimal relationship between National Societies and governments, while section 7 outlines some of the steps that governments are encouraged to take to maximise the potential represented by the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

2. Global socio-economic trends

 2. Global socio-economic trends: An increase in vulnerabilities and a breakdown of value systems  

 Changing nature of humanitarian emergencies  

Since the last International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1986, important changes have taken place on the global scene. The disintegration of the post-war world order has brought about a multitude of social and economic problems, and a chain of new conflicts, many of which are fragmented in nature.

Disasters continue to strike in all parts of the world, but their impact is changing. Today, due to increasing vulnerability amongst disaster-prone populations, more people are affected and rehabilitation and recovery is slower and more difficult. The last decade has also seen several major technological disasters that have brought in their wake a range of new health and environmental problems.

Furthermore, crime and lawlessness are emerging as major challenges to the ability of States to guarantee a basic level of security for their citizens. This reflects an apparently increasing breakdown of established ethical standards and values and a lack of respect for human dignity - val ues embodied in the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

 Global development trends  

Over the past 40 years, the developing world has made major gains in a number of areas that are of key importance for human development. To cite just a few indicators:

* average real incomes in developing countries have more than doubled over this period;

* death rates for children under five have been reduced by 50 percent;

* life expectancy has increased by one third.

However, these encouraging general trends hide the fact that increasingly large numbers of people, particularly in certain parts of the world, are not benefiting from the fruits of this development but are in fact becoming more vulnerable.

 Increasing vulnerability  

Vulnerability is a multi-dimensional concept that embraces a range of socio-economic, cultural, gender, political and environmental issues. The United Nations Development Programme has developed an index that weighs many different criteria and aims to assess human security. According to its 1994 Human Development Report , more than 2,000 million people worldwide are defined as vulnerable. This represents over one third of today's world population.

People that are especially affected include not only the estimated 49 million refugees and internally displaced, but also large parts of the population in countries where health care and social security systems have practically collapsed, or where economic policies have led to significant reductions in government spending in these sectors. Poverty associated with rapid population growth and environmental degradation renders increasing numbers of people particularly vulnerable to disasters and has contributed to the changing nature of conflicts as noted above.

 Changing approaches to development  

The international development agenda has been undergoing changes in recent years. The former preoccupation with macro-economic reform and growth is now placed in the context of a variety of other objectives, for example governance, environmental sustainability and gender relations. This growing recognition of the multi-faceted nature of the development process is reflected in the use of terms such as " human security " and " sustainable human development " .

The growth in the numbers of the most vulnerable, coinciding with a trend towards a diminishing government role in the health and social spheres, also calls attention to the need for a strong civil society. One important element of that civil society is the emergence of genuinely local voluntary organisations, both at the national and grass-roots levels. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are one very important and durabl e manifestation of this trend.

3. Responding to the challenge of rapid change

 3. The situation of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: responding to the challenge of rapid change  

 Legal and constitutional basis of National Societies  

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies enjoy a unique position within their countries. Article 2 of the statutes of the Movement specify that " each State shall promote the establishment on its territory of a National Society, and encourage its development " , and further that " the States shall at all times respect the adherence by all the components of the Movement to the Fundamental Principles " . This means that each National Society must be established through a formal act of parliament or a corresponding governmental measure to ensure that it can fulfil the role defined for it in the Geneva Conventions and the statutes of the Movement. Each government therefore recognises that the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of its country acts as an auxiliary to the public authorities with respect to certain designated functions in the humanitarian field. Each National Society must establish its own statutes or constitution by which it commits itself to fulfilling its humanitarian mandate through a national structure and the respect of the Fundamental Principles.

Once a Red Cross or Red Crescent Society has been established nationally, it can apply for international recognition by the ICRC and admission to the International Federation. Recognition is pronounced only when the ten conditions for recognition specified in article 4 of the statutes of the Movement are fulfilled (see Annex 1) in order to ensure that each National Society is established according to the same principles. When a National Society has been admitted to the International Federation, it is fully integrated into the Movement's structure. 

The Joint ICRC/Federation Commission for National Society Statutes plays an important role in preparing new National Societies for recognition and admission and in ensuring that all National Societies continue to commit themselves to the Movement's values and standards when they amend their statutes. The Commission's report appears as Annex 2.


 Growth and scope of National Societies  

From their origins in the 1860s, there has been a significant growth in the number of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in each decade of this century. This trend has continued in the recent past. The number of recognised National Societies in 1980 was 126 and rose to 148 by 1990. At the time of writing in 1995 there are 163 National Societies, with the prospect of some 180 being established by the end of the century.

The scope of this global network is impressive by all standards. The estimated number of members and volunteers of all National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is 128 million, the number of staff 274,400, and their total annual domestic programme expenditure in 1993 was the equivalent of 22,000 million Swiss francs ( 18 ,300 million US dollars). However, behind these figures lie important inequalities. The strongest National Societies come from the richest countries, while the Societies with greatest challenges are found in countries which have the least capacity and resources. Many National Societies lack the means and infrastructure to develop to their full potential.


 Structure and principles  

What makes the Red Cross and Red Crescent different from other humanitarian organisations is the fact that it is not an external aid agency intervening only in times of crisis, but a permanent, locally based institution, with headquarters and a branch structure within each country. This is backed up by an international network, coordinated by the International Federation or the ICRC, to ensure that needs are met. Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as national voluntary organisations and auxiliaries to their governments, share the experience of their people in their daily lives, provide a multitude of services to the population, and possess a unique knowledge of the local circumstances, a crucial asset in times of emergency interventions.

Another feature that distinguishes the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is its unique set of values. These values, known as the Fundamental Principles, have been tested through time and have proven to be universally applicable and understood, regardless of religious or cultural differences.

According to the principle of Humanity, the Movement endeavours to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. Impartiality in its action means that it is guided solely by the needs of the suffering, and makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. According to the principle of Neutrality, and in order to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement does not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. The Independence of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is a vital element. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments, must always maintain their autonomy so that they can at all times act in accordance to these principles. The principle of Unity requires that there can only be one National Society in a country, which must be open to all and work throughout the national territory. The Movement is dedicated to Voluntary Service and is not prompted by a desire for gain. The Universality of the International Movement is demonstrated by its world-wide network of National Societies, each enjoying equal status and responsibilities.

These Fundamental Principles are shared by 128 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff across the globe, and are manifested on a daily basis in the service programmes they carry out in their communities. The strict observance of these humanitarian principles also contributes to the confidence that the general public has in the organisation.

 Federation Strategic Work Plan for the Nineties  

In order to be able to cope with the increasingly complex and constantly changing working environment, the International Federation decided at the end of the 1980s to reassess its strategy worldwide. The outcome of this process is the Strategic Work Plan for the Nineties . This is the main policy framework for the Federation. It serves as an instrument for positive change, and sets out the main focus of work for all the member Societies of the Federation as well as its Geneva-based Secretariat.

The Strategic Work Plan defines one Challenge, towards which the collective efforts of the whole Federation should be directed, namely: Improving the situation of the most vulnerable . A strategic direction is provided by means of four main goals:


 * Enhanced respect for human dignity and humanitarian values;  


 * Improved ability to cope with crisis;  


 * Strengthened capacities of vulnerable people in their daily lives;  


 * A stronger Federation.  

The first of these four goals underlines the commitment of the International Federation and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to promoting enhanced respect for human dignity and humanitarian values in all its activities and amongst its volunteers and staff. Such a commitment is required in order to address some of the trends noted in section 2.

The second goal focuses on the ability to help predict, prevent, mitigate and respond to the effects of disasters. In pursuing these objectives, the Federation and its member National Societies work with disaster-prone and vulnerable communities, including refugees and displaced people, in order to understand the nature of their situation and to ensure that disaster response is linked to long-term development.

The third goal deals with efforts to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable by helping them to address the causes of the problems affecting their daily lives. This not only reduces their vulnerability to disasters but also enhances their dignity.

" Working as a federation " , a key concept within the Strategic Work Plan, describes a coordinated approach to mobilising the capacities, skills and resources of member National Societies in order to build a global network. Increased international cooperation and the support of governments is needed, both to help strengthen the global network and to use it effectively in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable people, in normal times and in cases of major disasters.

 The role of the ICRC in supporting National Societies  

As the main organisation responsible for disseminating international humanitarian law (IHL), the ICRC helps National Societies develop IHL dissemination pr ogrammes in their countries and contributes to the training of leaders in this field.

Through its role in promoting understanding and implementation of the Fundamental Principles, the ICRC plays an important part in promoting the unity of the Movement. It cooperates with National Societies to make the Principles known, understood and adhered to by members and volunteers, and respected by those outside the Movement. It also advises National Societies on the implementation and respect of the Fundamental Principles.

The ICRC also helps National Societies to prepare themselves for acting in times of armed conflict and assists those in formation to fulfil the conditions of recognition. It aims to achieve these development goals through specific cooperation programmes and through the training of National Society leaders.

4. National Societies as service providers

 4. National Societies as service providers: An important complement to the public sector  

 Programme focus  

The programme perspectives of the International Federation's Strategic Work Plan concentrate on the most vulnerable people. The 163 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies constitute an important source of service provision and community mobilisation in their countries, complementing the role of public authorities in fields such as health and social programmes, blood services, and disaster preparedness and disaster response.

 Programme and cost effectiveness  

National Societies have local branch structures that in many cases cover large parts of the national territory, enabling them to reach remote communities with few services. The strength of Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes is greatest where the principles and values of the organisation combine with effective voluntary action to address community needs. This allows for the active involvement of those needing assistance, which not only helps guarantee the success of the programme but also lessens the need for governments to provide costly service inputs.

The following gives a brief account of the most common services provided by National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies:

 Health services  

Health services are closely associated with the Red Cross and Red Crescent all around the world. The most common health activities include first aid, primary health care and community based health, as well as HIV/AIDS-related activities.

Virtually all 163 National Societies have first aid among their programmes - be it training the public in first aid skills, or maintaining first aid groups to deal with community emergencies. Several million people receive training in first aid each year worldwide. These include ordinary citizens, school students, as well as employees in both the private and public sectors. Most of those trained will use their skills in their personal lives, and an estimated 20 per cent will become active in providing first aid services to others. First aid programmes have undergone important changes during recent years, being more closely adapted to local conditions in various parts of the world. Community based first aid is increasingly used as a vehicle to deal with health related emergencies.

Health education in areas such as diarrhoea prevention, immunisation and infant growth monitoring is a particularly suitable activity for National Societies, whose main resources are trained volunteers. Such programmes are being increasingly adopted by Societies in Africa and Asia.

HIV/AIDS-related activities are carried out by more than 110 National Societies and range from AIDS prevention education for young people, to hot-lines for counselling, care of people with AIDS, and advocacy related to the human rights of the affected people.

 Social services  

Social services comprise a wide range of activities, depending on the local circumstances. Contrary to common belief, welfare services are growing in importance in many parts of the world as the number of vulnerable people is increasing. Home-help services, visiting nurses and other services for the elderly and sick have become vital as such public services are diminishing or disappearing and people moved back into the community from institutional care that can no longer be afforded. Service and counselling programmes for physically and mentally or socially handicapped people also form part of these activities. New forms of social services have been developed to meet the needs of victims of torture or rape, or other particularly traumatic situations.

Virtually all National Societies have tracing programmes to help war victims - including refugees and internally displaced persons - find their family members from whom they were separated. These services are provided in close cooperation with the ICRC, which coordinates them when hostilities are still active.

 Dissemination of international humanitarian law and the Fundamental Principles  

Another important area involves programmes and campaigns to disseminate humanitarian values and International Humanitarian Law. National Societies, usually in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, have for many years been carrying out programmes with specific target groups. More recently Movement efforts are also being directed at the wider general public.

Central to the success of these efforts is the work of the youth sections of many Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies. They are frequently able to mobilise young people and teachers, as well as out-of-school youth to promote the princip les and values of the Movement.

 Blood services  

Blood services, while one of the traditional and most common Red Cross and Red Crescent activities, are also one of the important components of any country's health services. While governments have the full responsibility for setting the legal framework and medical standards for this activity, they may choose to operate the programme themselves, or delegate responsibility for its operational management. The Red Cross and Red Crescent is the organisation most commonly associated with this work, and almost every National Society has some role in the national blood programme. In 22 countries the blood programme is run entirely by the Society, and partly in 36 other countries. In an additional 70 countries National Societies have a responsibility in public education or blood donor recruitment. This latter activity often determines the scope and quality of the whole programme, as the human element - the willingness to donate one's own blood to save a fellow human being - is in many cultures a sensitive issue. The confidence that the public has in the Red Cross and Red Crescent enables it to carry out such work.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is convinced that voluntary, non-remunerated blood and plasma donation remains not only ethically, but also in terms of safety, the most appropriate means of blood donation. The International Federation has been in the forefront of developments to promote these issues. This is reflected in the fact that since 1948 blood services have been on the agenda of the International Conference six times.

In addition to the services mentioned above, several National Societies also have important responsibilities in other health related areas such as ambulance and hospital services as well as training of nurses and auxiliary hospital sta ff. Such services - and this also applies to blood services - cannot, however, be effectively carried out by National Societies alone unless a system of cost-recovery is in place, enabling the acquisition and maintenance of the necessary infrastructure and equipment.

 Disaster preparedness  

Disaster preparedness, a key Red Cross and Red Crescent programme area, involves preparing the organisation at national and local levels to act adequately in the case of a major disaster, and to prepare local communities to avert or mitigate daily emergencies and common disasters. Most National Societies have training programmes for their own staff and volunteers to maintain an adequate degree of preparedness. More recently, National Societies have started to address the disaster preparedness needs of vulnerable communities, working together with the people to identify the key risks and strengthen their capacities to cope. In these programmes, which are part of the implementation of the Federation's Strategic Work Plan, disaster preparedness and community based health initiatives are often combined.

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies'disaster preparedness and response is normally coordinated with that of governmental authorities. It is not unusual that the government relies heavily on the National Society to carry out relief assistance, often with support from the Red Cross and Red Crescent international network. In many countries the National Society has been assigned a coordinating role in disaster situations vis-à-vis other voluntary organisations.

 Disaster response  

Disaster response is one of the most important and most common roles of a National Society. A Red Cross or Red Crescent Society normally has at its disposal a certain number of trained volunteers, warehouses stocked with most commonly needed relief items, a certain transport capacity, and often a radio communications network of its own, or access to one it can use. Being a locally based organisation, the National Society has an infrastructure covering the whole country and as a result volunteers close to a disaster wherever it occurs. The other background document for Commission II discusses in detail a variety of issues related to disaster response activities.

5. Building confidence and capacity

 5. Strengthening National Societies: Building confidence and capacity  

 New challenges  

For the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement the means to achieve its development objectives - rendering communities and individuals stronger and less vulnerable to disasters and other threats to human well-being - is the National Societies. While frequently amongst the most active and well-established voluntary organisations in their own countries, many Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are presently seeking solutions to important challenges to their mission and future development in the face of the rapidly changing world environment. This applies to Societies in affluent countries as well as those in the developing world, though the nature of the issues may often vary.

The challenges faced by National Societies involve such issues as:

* how to a djust their existing organisational structures and programmes to take account of new realities and changing funding patterns, particularly in terms of general reductions in governments'expenditure in the health and social sectors;

* how to develop programmes to assist new categories of vulnerable people such as urban slum dwellers, drug addicts, the long-term unemployed, people with AIDS, etc;

* how to reaffirm their relationship with government, particularly in terms of clarifying roles in respect of their responsibility to operate as auxiliary to the public services;

* how to adapt to the emergence in many parts of the world of new voluntary organisations and to establish proper cooperation mechanisms to work together effectively;

* how to streamline and make more efficient their organisational structure, so that by ensuring full respect of the Movement's Fundamental principles they can also adapt to new trends, including funding;

* how to maintain their volunteer base in view of the lack of social and economic security that many volunteers themselves face, and to attract new volunteers from non-traditional sources;

* how to find creative new ways for National Societies themselves to promote International Humanitarian Law and the Principles of the Movement, and a role in lessening and preventing causes of conflict in their countries;

* how to ensure that the Red Cross and Red Crescent continues to enjoy a high public profile and reputation, and that respect for the emblem is improved.

 Learning from practical experience  

The International Federation has acquired significant experience over the past 10 to 15 years in terms of understanding what is needed to ensure the effective supply of programme assistance, especially in terms of the operational and organisational capacity of National Societies to adapt to changing conditions. A number of evaluations and operational and organisational reviews have been carried out during this period in all regions of the world in order to have a base of experience on which to design new systems and approaches.

One recent Federation-led study involved 32 National Societies in Latin America and the Caribbean. While covering only one continent, this study provides a good overview of many of the issues facing National Societies today in other regions as well. The study's main recommendations focus on the need to ensure that programmes are oriented to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations in these countries, and that organisational structures be participative, flexible and accountable. Other key recommendations draw attention to the need to achieve a solid financial base and effective planning systems, and to improve the public image of the National Societies. (See: The Challenges of Human Development: The Future of the Red Cross in Latin America and the Caribbean , Federation, 1993). The findings of a previous study, covering the whole Movement, already highlights some of the same issues. (See: The Reappraisal of the Role of the Red Cross, 1975 (the " Tansley Study " ).

 Setting common standards  

A common theme that emerges from all the major reviews of National Society work is the need to ensure that programme development and institutional development go hand in hand. Programmes to assist the weakest and most needy in society cannot be planned and executed unless there is an adequate organisational structure to ensure their maintenance and sustainability.

The Federation has consequently developed a set of criteria to address the need for universal standards of performance for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These have been formulated in a document entitled "Characteristics of a Well-Functioning National Society" which   is attached   as Annex 3. The Characteristics document builds on the Conditions for Recognition for National Societies, and provides guidance for them as well as for governments. It is a summary of the features considered necessary for a National Society to function well, organised under three main headings that correspond broadly to the concepts of purpose, means and results, as follows:

The foundation of a National Society consists of its mission - the purpose and goals of the organisation, based on the Fundamental Principles of the Movement and on the specific conditions of the country. The foundation also covers the   legal base of the National Society, particularly its statutes and the law under which the Society is recognised by the government, and its constituency in terms of the nature of its   membership and territorial coverage.

The statutes of a National Society are the basic document establis hing the Society, its objectives, the rights and duties of its members, as well as the composition, mode of election or designation of its statutory bodies and office bearers. The Federation and the ICRC cooperate closely together in advising National Societies when they review their statutes. This work is described in the report of the Joint Commission for National Society Statutes (see annex 2).

The   capacity of the National Society is the central element determining how well it functions. This starts with leadership - governance (the elected Board, Executive Committee, etc.) and the hired management. Also of key importance are the National Society's financial, human and material resources , which allow it to carry out its mission. A National Society needs an effective   organisation : a structure, systems and procedures that make it work as a unified whole.

The   performance of a National Society is determined by the type of activities   the Society carries out, and the way they are selected and prepared. Performance is also defined by the relevance of these activities, particularly in meeting the challenge of improving the situation of the most vulnerable. And in the final analysis, it is defined by the National Society's effectiveness   - the extent to which the Society carries out its mission, monitors and evaluates implementation, and makes adjustments where needed.

 Putting the new approach into practice  

While efforts are constantly being made by all components of t he Movement to ensure that National Society programme development continues to improve, the Federation places special emphasis on assisting National Societies in their overall capacity building. In this regard two new approaches have recently been developed.

The    Institutional Development Handbook    and its five Application Guides are designed to assist National Societies coping with institutional development issues, making good use of current knowledge in the field and of the best practice applied both inside and outside the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The methodology is based on a National Society self-assessment, and provides the elements for carrying the process forward through a cycle of planning, implementation and re-assessment.

Several National Societies in different parts of the world and with very different kinds of issues to solve, have already embarked on an institutional development exercise. The experiences, although quite recent, are most encouraging.

The Resource Development Handbook is a practical tool designed to help National Societies to improve their own financial base and to become less dependent on outside assistance. In addition to introducing both traditional and innovative fund-raising techniques, the handbook addresses such issues as planning and budgeting, financial management, National Society image and public relations, and setting up resource development structures in a National Society.

Training in capacity building, including both institutional and resource development aspects, and cooperation in key programme areas has already been initiated in several regions, and will form an increasingly important p art of the Federation's and the ICRC's efforts to strengthen National Societies'capacities.

 ICRC contribution to National Society development  

Since adopting its policy framework for ICRC contribution to National Society development in 1990, the ICRC has greatly increased its cooperation programmes with National Societies.

The ICRC has stepped up its cooperation to assist National Societies in fulfilling their mandates in times of armed conflict. In 1990 it published a manual entitled " Guide for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to activities in the event of conflict " , which explains the National Societies'tasks during conflict and in preparation for conflict. Cooperation in specific spheres such as tracing, dissemination, first aid training, training on the use of the emblem, safety of National Society staff in the field, relief and medical operations, and telecommunications, to name just a few, has also been an important aspect of the ICRC's contribution to the development of National Society operations in responding to armed conflicts.

Furthermore, in order to ensure that they have a strong institutional and operational base when they are recognised, the ICRC has also begun to devote more resources to cooperation programmes with National Societies in formation.

6. Working in partnership with government

 6. Strengthening National Societies: Working in partnership with government  

 General principles  

As noted in section 3, Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies enjoy a special relationship with the government of their countries. First, they have to be established by a formal national legislative measure. Second, this official recognition also confers on the Society specific duties and responsibilities vis-à-vis the public authorities.

At the same time all National Societies have a duty to uphold the Fundamental Principle of Independence. This requires that they must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement. For the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the integrity of its actions is of crucial importance. Not only is it vital for the organisation to maintain high standards in its performance, but it is equally important for it to be seen as deserving the confidence of the public at large.

The humanitarian work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent over more than a hundred years has earned it a high level of respect bot h at national and international levels. Its ability to act with independence and autonomy have been key factors in achieving this respect. Maintaining the hard-won reputation allows the organisation to carry on its mandate.

According to the Statutes of the Movement and their own constitutions, the ICRC and the Federation have a complementary role to play in upholding the Movement's standards.

According to its constitution (article 3, paragraph k), one of the functions of the International Federation is to be the guardian of the integrity and the protector of the interests of its member National Societies. The issue of the integrity of National Societies, including aspects of their relationship with government, has been dealt with by the governing bodies of the International Federation at its General Assembly of 1993 and its Executive Council meetings of May and October 1994. The objective has been to establish a mechanism whereby potential integrity problems can be identified and solved at an early stage, thus preventing them from becoming actual ones. It has been agreed that a developmental approach will be adopted, providing support to a Society experiencing an integrity problem and helping it to achieve the Characteristics of a Well-Functioning National Society described in section 5. 

The ICRC's statutory role of maintaining the Movement's Fundamental Principles means that it also takes an active interest in the integrity of National Societies and acts in consultation with the Federation on such issues. Regular consultations are also held between the ICRC and the Federation, through the Joint Commission and the Joint ICRC/Federation Statutes Commission, in which such problems may be dealt with.

 National Society relationship with its government  

In most cases, a positive and mutually benef icial relationship exists between each National Society and its government. However, in view of the issues involved, it is necessary to state more clearly the principles which should be followed so that National Societies and governments can structure their relationship appropriately. Such issues need to be applied with sensitivity, because what may be acceptable and perhaps a productive relationship in one culture could easily deteriorate in another setting.

Achieving a correct balance between the auxiliary nature of the National Societies and the principle of independence, however, is crucial to ensuring the integrity and lasting benefits of Red Cross and Red Crescent work. Below are three key areas that have been identified where National Societies are likely to have difficulty maintaining their independence from governments.

 Autonomy of action  

The first principle that must be maintained is for the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society to maintain its own strict autonomy of action. National Societies must naturally respect the laws of their country, and in particular those regarding the use of the emblem, blood donation, taxation and fund-raising, etc. This means that while they may thus come under the general overview of one particular ministry, as indeed do other national humanitarian organisations, they should have complete freedom from government intervention in determining the Society's programmes and their implementation.

In order to assist governments in defining the legal basis of their country's Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, the Federation and the ICRC plan to draw up a model national law of recognition with a commentary. This model law would be of use to governments of newly independent countries which are establishing a National Society for the first time, as well as to governments which would like to review t he legal basis of their country's National Society.

In all their activities, be they relief operations or development programmes, Societies must have full operational control and be accountable to the needs of the most vulnerable, while having an obligation to ensure that such activities are complementary to, and properly coordinated with, government initiatives in these areas.

A related situation is where a Society's statutes may be established by government decree or act of parliament rather than by a decision of its own governing body. The risk here is that the government or the parliament may unilaterally want to change the statutes against the will of the National Society, thus again infringing its autonomy.

Genuine government support should not be confused with government control. There are many cases where National Societies request and receive regular government grants for either part of their general costs, or for specific programmes. Such support is most welcome and is to be encouraged, provided it is not used to exert control over or jeopardise the Society's ability to govern and manage its own affairs and programmes. The Society should naturally have established adequate financial management control mechanisms of its own.

 Selection of National Society leaders  

The principle of independence requires that Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies operate under their own approved statutes and have the freedom to choose their leaders according to procedures as laid down in these statutes. It must be recognised that there are situations today where this basic condition does not apply.

There are cases where the leadership is first appointed by a government decree, then confirmed by the National Society members. There are other cases where no elections take place a t all, officials being unilaterally appointed by the government. Both situations, represent potential integrity problems depending on how the government uses its prerogative. If the National Society leadership, once appointed, has total freedom to act, there may not be an actual integrity problem. But there is always a risk for the potential problem to turn into an actual one. Measures should therefore be taken to ensure that the statutes of all Societies provide for a fully autonomous process for the selection of their leadership.

 National Society financial dependence on government  

As noted above, many governments provide National Societies with annual grants or cost recovery mechanisms for the supply of service programmes. This applies both for Societies'domestic programmes and also, in the case of Societies in most donor countries, to support the Movement's international relief and development efforts. This important trend is one that should be encouraged and expanded.

However, where a National Society depends on the government for funding all or most of its core costs (salaries of key staff, other indispensable administrative costs), it will be difficult to act with autonomy. An integrity problem may also arise if the government finances a National Society to carry out a major service programme, and then dictates how that programme should be carried out. A similar situation applies in cases where a government aid agency channels funds through a National Society for international assistance and insists that governmental instructions and priorities be followed. In all these cases, the key principle that must be followed is that programmes must be conducted within the framework of the Fundamental Principles and of adopted Red Cross and Red Crescent policy and standards.

7. International cooperation with governments

 7. Strengthening National Societies: International cooperation with governments  

 The value of the international network  

As noted in section 4, all National Societies provide cost effective and valuable support in the fields of health, social and disaster preparedness, as well as being one of the front-line agents for disaster response. In addition to their own resources, National Societies are able to seek support through the international network that represents one of the unique features of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

In terms of disaster response operations in 1994, 355 million Swiss francs were mobilised by the International Federation in response to its international appeals, and 601 million Swiss francswas raised by the ICRC for its field operations. While consolidated statistics are not readily available for international development cooperation, between Swiss francs 90 - 100 million was provided in 1994 by National Societies in donor countries to support the programmes and activities of those in the developing world.

A variety of benefits can be derived from helping to develop the programmes and overall institutional capacity of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in developing countries has . These activities are able, firstly, to contribute significantly to de al with some of the pressing health and social problems affecting the most vulnerable in these countries. Secondly, they serve to reinforce the ability of Societies to respond in a timely and effective manner when disasters of whatever type may strike. Time and again the value of having committed and well-trained local National Society personnel on the ground in the affected area has been proven. Lastly, there are many intangible benefits to the overall development of civil society by having active and representative voluntary organisations that are able to mobilise wide sections of the population for humanitarian work.

 Government's role in development cooperation support  

The overall amounts shown above for disaster response and development cooperation come both from National Societies'own public fundraising and also from the generous support provided by governments, inter-governmental organisations such as the European Union, and several of the specialised agencies of the United Nations system.

While public and government attention focuses mainly on Red Cross and Red Crescent work in disaster response activities, the need is great for increased development funding to support the work of National Societies in the developing world . Many of these Societies are caught in a vicious circle in which a weak organisational and management structure leads to ineffective programmes, which in turn lead to a poor public image and a low and probably declining funding base. This poor financial situation means that programmes cannot be improved and better quality management recruited.

Often in times of disaster, temporary support has been provided through international funding to allow such Societies to act as useful partners in implementing operations. However, there have been many occasions when such support has not been accompanied by c omplementary measures to lead to a lasting overall strengthening of the Society. Thus when disaster returns such countries, as it almost inevitably does after a certain period of time, the process of training staff, setting up operational structures and building local capacity has to start all over again.

Yet such Societies have the potential to become a very significant resource that can contribute to reducing many of the burdens faced by the poorest countries, in normal times as well as in times of disasters. With relatively small amounts of investment, important gains can be made. The Federation and the ICRC have committed themselves to giving special attention to strengthening National Societies, but in order for this to be successful, the support and commitment of donor country governments are also needed.

There has been a clear trend in recent years for an increasing proportion of OECD countries'total overseas development aid spending to shift towards disaster response and away from development assistance. However, donor governments will realise that there is much to be gained by directing increased funding into helping to develop further the potential of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the poorest countries of the developing world. This will provide such National Societies with a sustainable capacity that will allow them to play a full role as partners in disaster response and development work.

8. Conclusion

 8. Conclusion  

This paper has provided an overview of the range of humanitarian activities being carried out by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world and how it complements the work of governments. While current efforts are already considerable, there is scope for further improvements in a variety of areas. Increased cooperation will represent a significant investment in helping the Movement to build a better world for all mankind.

Annex I

 Annex I - Conditions for recognition of National Societies  

The Society shall:

1. Be constituted on the territory of an independent State where the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field is in force.

2. Be the only National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of the said State and be directed by a central body which shall alone be competent to represent it in its dealings with other components of the Movement.

3. Be duly recognized by the legal government of its country on the basis of the Geneva Conventions and of the national legislation as a voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field.

4. Have an autonomous status which allows it to operate in conformity with the Fundamental Principles of the Movement.

5. Use the name and emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva Conventions.

6. Be so organized as to be able to fulfil the tasks defined in its own statutes, including the preparation in peace time for its statutory tasks in case of armed conflict.

7. Extend its activities to the entire territory of the State.

8. Recruit its voluntary members and its staff without consideration of race, sex, class, religion or political opinions.

9. Adhere to the Statutes of the Movement, share in the fellowship which unites its members and keep in close touch with them.

10. Respect the Fundamental Principles of the Movement and be guided in its work by the principles of international humanitarian law.

Annex II

 Annex II - Report of the ICRC/Federation joint commission for National Society statutes  

 I. Role and activities of the ICRC/Federation Joint Commission For National Society statutes.  


Since its last report (30 April 1991) scheduled for the XXVIth International Council of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and submitted to the Council of Delegates in November 1991, the Commission met 29 times until 30 June 1995.

In June 1992, the Commission parted with Mr. Pierre Gaillard who had chaired it for nine years; since then it was chaired by Mr. William Cassis. The Commission consists of representatives from the Federation and the ICRC.

During these past four years, as provided by Resolution VI of the International Conference of the Red Cross in 1973 (Teheran) and Resolution XX of the Internation al Conference of the Red Cross in 1981 (Manilla), the Commission has monitored the application and the permanent respect of the rules governing the recognition of new National Societies, their admission to the International Federation and has submitted its recommendations accordingly to both Institutions. It has examined amendments of statutes submitted to it by National Societies and made all the appropriate recommendations so that these statutes would be in conformity with the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as well as with the conditions necessary for recognition.

 1.  Procedure for recognition and admission.  

It should be recalled that the beginning of the period covered by this report has been marked by the appearance of new " entities " (about-to-be-formed National Societies or those whose recognition had to be confirmed) and that because of the important political changes in Europe and Asia. This did not facilitate the work of the Commission, but it faced the difficulties by multiplying the number of meetings, contacts with and missions to these new National Societies to help them in the process of recognition and admission. These efforts must continue in the years to come. Based on the mandate conferred upon it, the Commission has recommended the recognition of by the ICRC and admission to the Federation of 18 new National Societies, after having examined the documents forwarded by the candidate Societies and the evaluation on site of their operational capability by experienced delegates of the Federation and the ICRC.

The National Societies recognized or confirmed by the ICRC and admitted to the Federation are the following:

In 1991:

Latvian Red Cross

Lithuanian Red Cross

In 1992:

Red Cross of the Seychelles

Red Cross of Saint-Kitts-and Nevis

Red Cross of Antigua-and Barbuda

Russian Red Cross Society

In 1993:

Estonian Red Cross

Namibian Red Cross

Croatian Red Cross

Slovak Red Cross

Slovene Red Cross

Czech Red Cross

Yugoslav Red Cross

Red Cross of the Ukraine

Red Cross of Vanuatu

Red Cross of Malta

In 1994:

Red Cross of Andorra

Red Cross of Equatorial Guinea

To date there are some twenty Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, constituted or in formation, that do not yet respond to the necessary conditions for recognition and admission; the Commission, nevertheless, is still examining the files of some of them in the hope of being able to recommend to the two Institutions, their recognition and admission before the end of 1995.

 2. Amendment of statutes  

Several National Societies (over forty) have transmitted to the ICRC and the Federation the amendments that they wished to make, or that they had already made, to their statutes. Furthermore, 141 National Societies have communicated their statutes in force to the Commission upon request.

The Commission has examined the amendments submitted to it and made known to the authors the comments and recommendations as necessary. Unfortunately, these amendments were often transmitted once they had already been adopted and were in force. In such cases, it would only be possible to take these comments and recommendations into account at the nearest next General Assembly, at best in a year or two, which obviously is not a satisfying solution. The Commission takes this opportunity of reminding National Societies of their obligations according to Resolution VI of the XXIInd International Conference (Teheran 1973) and Resolution XX of the XXIVth International Conference (Manila 1981) which stipulate, among others, that:


 "any Society wishing to change its statutes on points relating to the conditions for recognition and admission, will submit such changes to the ICRC and the Federation and will take their recommendations into account"  

Only thus the Commission can and will fulfil its mandate to the fullest extent.

 II.      Conclusion  

The Commission is aware of the task it must accomplish: on the one hand assist by all means available National Societies that have not yet been recongized so that they may join the great family of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as quickly as possible and, on the other, see to it that the statutes of National Society are always in conformity with the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and with the conditions for recognition.

This task can only be done through close and regular collaboration with the National Societies.

Annex III

 Annex III - Characteristics of a well-functioning National Society  

 1. Foundation  

 1.1 Mission  

a. A well-functioning National Society has a clearly stated mission, in other words, a clear purpose, a clear idea of what it is trying to do. This mission is well understood and broadly supported, by members at all levels of the Society.

b. It is guided by the Fundamental Principles of the Movement and operates in conformity with these Fundamental Principles throughout the Society.

c. It maintains a position of autonomy and independence, while working closely, as a responsible partner, with the government and with others.

d. Its mission reflects the Mission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as the Challenge as defined in the Federation's Strategic Work Plan.

e. It demonstrates understanding and acceptance of its responsibilities as a member of the Federation and part of the Movement.

f. It strikes the right balance between the preservation of established values on the one hand and the innovation needed to meet new challenges on the other.

g. It has a positive public image that properly reflects its mission and its values.

 1.2 Legal Base  

a. A well-functioning Society has up-to-date and relevant statues, modified only after concurrence of the ICRC and the Federation.

b. It is constituted on the territory of an independent country, as the only Red Cross or Red Crescent Society.

c. It uses the title and emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva conventions and the relevant regulations.

d. The Red Cross or Red Crescent law or decree under which it is recognised by its government is still relevant.

e. The statutes are being respected; in particular, the general assembly (or equivalent governing body) is being convened regularly and elections are being held in accordance with the statues.

 1.3 Constituency  

a. A well-functioning Society extends its activities to the entire territory of the country, through either an adequate branch network base don a territorial structure, or through another form of territorial coverage.

b. It recruits its voluntary members and staff without consideration of race, colour, ethnic origin, sex, class, religion, or political beliefs, pursuing widespread and popular membership, and seek ing to ensure that membership and leadership are a true reflection of the general population.

c. It has a clear definition of the various types of membership.

d. It makes special efforts to attract and involve the youth of the country.

 2. Capacity  

 2.1 Leadership  

a. A well-functioning Society has a clear and straightforward governing structure with well-defined roles for its general assembly, for the central or executive committee, for the chairman or president, and for the chief executive officer; accountability has been well-established at all levels of governance and management.

b. It avoids domination of the governing body by one person, one group or by the government; too, it avoids exclusion of certain persons or groups from membership.

c. Decision making is widely shared, with all volunteers having access to the decision-making process and with provision for consultation and a wide expression of views.

d. Leaders are committed to the Red Cross / Red Crescent and have the necessary background and skills, with special efforts made to ensure regular succession of leaders.

e. Leadership training as well as leadership opportunities are provided at all levels, especially for women and youth.

 2.2 Resources  

 Human Resources:  

a. A well-functioning Society engages a sufficient number of properly qualified persons (staff and volunteers) to carry out its services, and ta ps professional advice and expertise beyond its own membership.

b. It has explicit policies regarding the recruitment, training, appraisal and reward of staff and volunteers, and it actively implements these policies.

c. It actively recruits volunteers from all sections of the community, including from vulnerable groups that it is trying to assist. It engages in programmes that rely on volunteers as well as on financial inputs.

 Financial Resources:  

d. It finances its activities on a planned basis, covering the expenses of administration and other core activities from its own, core resources.

e. It seeks to minimise dependence on foreign or government assistance through active local fundraising combined with sound financial management.

f. It carries out local fundraising on a systematic basis, seeking broad support within the population.

g. It diversifies its sources of funding in order to protect its independence and reduce risks while ensuring high ethical standards and avoiding support from sources and on conditions that are inconsistent with its mission.

h. It keeps administrative and other overhead costs under control to ensure that as many of its resources as possible are used to improve the situation of the most vulnerable.

 Material Resources:  

i. It has available the basic material infrastructure (buildings, transport and other means) adequate for its purposes, consistent with its desired public image and sustainable in terms of operation and maintenance.

 2.3 Organisation  

a. A well-functioning Society has the structures, systems and procedures in place that allow it to fulfil its mission.

b. Its organisations is flexible, prepared to respond immediately to disasters.

c. It has a headquarters which gives leadership and support to local units.

d. It has a up-to-date, comprehensive development plan that brings together its mission, its specific objectives, its relief and development programmes, and its financing.

e. It has a sound system of financial management, budgeting, accounting and external, independent auditing, with clear accountability for the use of funds.

f. It works closely with other organisations - national and international, public and private - taking into account what others are doing, coordinating its activities with them, and sharing resources

g. It actively supports the Federation, participating in its affairs, implementing its policies, and assisting the Federation, the ICRC and the other Societies to the limits of its abilities, including the sharing of experiences, knowledge and expertise.

 3. Performance  

 3.1 Activities  

a. A well-functioning Society carries out a set of activities that is well selected, planned and evaluated.

b. It ensures that activities are consistent with its mission and with its desired public image, thus enhancing public confidence.

c. It adheres to relevant Federation policies, including the Principles and Rules for Disaster Relief and for Development Cooperation, and other pol icy decisions of the General Assembly, the Council of Delegates and the International Conference.

d. It actively disseminates the Fundamental Principles and humanitarian law. it cooperates with the government to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and to protect the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblem. While respecting the Principle of Neutrality, it is not indifferent in the fact of situations that adversely affect the most vulnerable.

e. It is prepared to take prompt and effective action in response to disaster, in accordance with its specific role in disaster relief; it is prepared in peace time for its statutory tasks in cse of armed conflict; it actively assists in relief operation after natural disaster; and it selectively undertakes development programmes aimed at strengthening the capacities of vulnerable communities.

f. It implements a set of core programmes in line with regional requirements as determined by respective regional conferences.

 3.2 Relevance  

a. A well-functioning Society concentrates its activities on the most vulnerable, enhancing their capacity to help themselves.

b. It pursues the active participation of programme target groups in its membership, in the decision-making process and in contributing to the costs of services.

 3.3 Effectiveness  

a. A well-functioning Society monitors continuously whether its activities have the desired effect and whether results are achieved efficiently, taking prompt corrective action where needed and feeding the results back into the planning process.

b. It enjoys a good reputation for the quality of its wo rk, both amongst the country's leading opinion makers and the public at large. To help enhance its public image, it keeps the press well informed about its activities.

c. It prepares regular progress reports and keeps the Federation, its members, its donors and the public at large regularly informed about its activities, finances and achievements.

d. It regularly evaluates and assesses the quality and impact of its activities and makes adjustments where needed.

 May 1994