III. Non – military actors
3.2. International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the largest humanitarian network. Its mission is to alleviate human suffering, protect life, health, and human dignity. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is not a single organization. It is composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and of the 191 individual National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Each has its own legal identity and role, but they are all united by seven fundamental principles and specific channels of communication and coordination. These principles are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. Each component of the Movement is committed to respect and uphold them. In June 2006, the Red Crystal symbol was adopted as a non-religious symbol. It is given the same recognition as the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The Red Crystal is now an accepted symbol for medical personnel, facilities and supplies.
The Red Lion with Sun is a recognised symbol, but only used in Iran and Shi’i dominated countries. Official the Red Lion with Sun was adopted in 1980 by the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, but after the revolution Iran re-established its former symbol for its national society. The Red Shield of David is another recognized symbol but doesn’t belong to the ICRC community. However installations flagged with these symbols shall not be attacked and have to be taken in consideration for careful planning of military operations.
International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC defines its mission as: “the ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. The ICRC also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles”. The ICRC therefore deals directly with governments and armed forces, as well as armed opposition groups, to promote compliance with and respect for the law of armed conflict.
During conflicts, the ICRC directs and coordinates the international relief activities conducted by the Movement. ICRC is also the custodian of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) also known as the Law of Armed Conflict (LoAC). The ICRC is committed to responding rapidly and efficiently to the humanitarian needs of people affected by armed conflict or by a natural disaster occurring in a conflict area. The main activities of the ICRC are:
- Visiting detainees;
- Protecting civilians;
- Building respect for the law.
The ICRC is neither an international organization nor a non-governmental organization. It is a private association under Swiss Law which was given an international mandate by the states party to the Geneva Conventions to help victims of armed conflict. ICRC is not mandated by governments, its functions and activities are mandated by the international community of states. It is worth mentioning four key characteristics of the ICRC:
- The ICRC seek and maintain a dialogue with all the parties to a conflict.
- The ICRC favours a confidential approach. The ICRC’s practice of confidentiality is reinforced by the organization’s immunity from the obligation to testify in a court of law.
- The ICRC is able to play the role of neutral intermediary and to offer its mediation and offices whenever required.
- The ICRC action cannot be part of any integrated or comprehensive mechanism. The ICRC is limited by its fundamental principles which exclude close cooperation with military forces. The ICRC must maintain its independence of decision making and action while consulting closely with military actors.
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The IFRC carries out relief operations to assist victims of natural and technological disasters, epidemic outbreak, etc. and combines these with development work to strengthen the capacities of its member National Societies. It also directs and coordinates its members’ actions to assist the refugees and those affected by health emergencies. The IFRC’s work focuses on four core areas: promoting humanitarian values, disaster response, disaster preparedness, and health and community care.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The 191 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies constitute a vital field presence of the Movement in nearly all countries. National Societies act as auxiliaries to their national authorities in the humanitarian field and provide a range of services including disaster relief, and health and social programmes. In times of armed conflict, they may assist the civilian population and support the medical services of the armed forces. Their local knowledge and expertise, access to communities and existing infrastructure allow them to act fast and efficiently. This makes them important first responders in many countries and invaluable partners for international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). National Society programs and services address both immediate and long-term needs and include:
- Emergency response;
- Disaster preparedness;
- Community based healthcare;
- First aid training and activities;
- Restoring family contact for disaster victims;
- Youth and volunteer activities.