The ICRC: a unique institution in the service of humanity

The International Committee of the Red Cross enjoys unique legitimacy because of its history, mandate, widely recognised professionalism and the direct daily impact of its work on millions of victims of armed conflict and other forms of violence

A historic moment

In 1862, the Genevan businessman and future Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henry Dunant published A Memoir of Solferino, outlining humanitarian principles that are still valid today. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was established in 1863, paving the way for the Geneva Conventions and the inception of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement shortly thereafter. The ICRC and the Geneva Conventions laid the foundations for a modern, multilateral order that puts people first and upholds the supremacy of law over power. The ICRC also established Geneva's reputation as the world's humanitarian capital. 

A universal mandate

In the Geneva Conventions, the international community expressly mandated the ICRC to take action on its own initiative, or as a minimum to offer its services, in the event of armed conflict and in all other situations requiring humanitarian intervention. This means that the ICRC is often able to operate in crisis-hit regions, even when the belligerents or local authorities deny access to other organisations. 

A neutral actor

The ICRC carries out its work in strict compliance with the fundamental principles enshrined in the Statutes of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The principles always prioritise the interests and welfare of people in need as a result of armed conflict, natural disasters and other crises. The ICRC has an excellent reputation for the quality of its work. ICRC staff do much of their work away from the public eye and media coverage. 

The ICRC's main activities include:

  • Promoting respect for humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law;
  • Protecting populations affected by conflict and other forms of violence through activities such as locating missing persons and providing forensic expertise, facilitating information exchange among separated families, reuniting families, and visiting prisoners;
  • Delivering humanitarian assistance like medical care, clean drinking water, and food, and facilitating access to education. 

Globally present with headquarters in Geneva

The ICRC's operations extend to over 90 countries, making it a key constituent of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and its global network of National Societies. In order to fulfil its mandate, it almost always works with other international aid organisations as well as national and local partners.

Notwithstanding the international nature of its work and the fact that its workforce is becoming ever more diverse, the ICRC retains its close ties to Switzerland and to the City of Geneva in particular. No other organisation is more representative of International Geneva, although the city is now home to a large number of organisations that address a wide range of issues. 

A mirror image of Swiss values

The ICRC's emblem – a red cross on a white background – mirrors the Swiss flag, symbolising the shared humanitarian values and goals that fostered the historic and exceptionally close bond between Switzerland and the ICRC.

The ICRC's governing body, the Assembly (including its president and vice-president), is made up of 15 to 20 Swiss nationals, thereby ensuring the organisation's independence and neutrality.

Switzerland is the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions and host state of the ICRC, which was founded as an association under Swiss law. As one of the ICRC's largest donors, Switzerland provides funding to support the organisation in all its operational activities, thereby furthering the achievement of its own foreign policy objectives in keeping with its humanitarian tradition. At the same time, the ICRC helps through its presence and activities to promote Switzerland's reputation worldwide, albeit indirectly and while maintaining its independence. 

A unique partnership

At the request of the ICRC, the FDFA seconds members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to carry out specific ICRC missions. The SDC, for its part, can call on the ICRC's extensive network and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to fulfil its mandate in crisis situations.