The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.
During situations of conflict, the ICRC is responsible for directing and coordinating the Movement's international relief activities. It also promotes the importance of international humanitarian law and draws attention to universal humanitarian principles.
As the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC has a permanent mandate under international law to visit prisons, organize relief operations, reunite separated families and undertake other humanitarian activities during armed conflicts.
The ICRC also works to meet the needs of internally displaced persons, raise public awareness of the dangers of mines and explosive remnants of war and trace people who have gone missing during conflicts.
The ICRC's headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, and the organization has more than 12,000 staff in 80 countries around the globe. About 30 per cent of the ICRC's operational activities are carried out in cooperation with National Societies.
Established in 1863, the ICRC is at the origin of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The ICRC was founded as a result of the work of Henry Dunant, a Swiss, at the battle of Solferino (1859), where thousands of wounded French, Austrian and Italian soldiers were left without adequate medical care. Dunant's book – A Memory of Solferino (1862) – led to the adoption of the first Geneva Convention (1864), laying out rules to protect wounded soldiers and medics, and to the creation of relief societies in each country.
These bodies became known as Red Cross Societies, referring to the universal emblem adopted to identify and protect medical units. (The red crescent emblem was introduced in the 1880s.)
Since its foundation, the ICRC has played a humanitarian role in most of the conflicts that have taken place around the world. It has continuously worked to persuade States to expand the legal protection of war victims, to limit suffering.
The ICRC, the national societies and their International Federation form the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. In situations of armed conflict the ICRC coordinates the response by its Movement partners.
The ICRC has a permanent international mandate for its work. This derives from the 1949 Geneva Conventions – agreed to by every State in the world – and from the Statutes of the Movement.
However, the ICRC remains a private organisation governed by Swiss law and strictly independent in its governance and operational decisions. The Committee itself consists of up to 25 co-opted members, all Swiss. The ICRC's work respects the Movement's fundamental principles, notably those of neutrality, impartiality and independence.
More than 1,400 specialized staff and generalists are currently on field missions for the ICRC across the globe. They work with some 11,000 local employees, supported and coordinated by around 800 staff at its Geneva headquarters. Expatriate staff members can be from countries anywhere in world; the ICRC is an equal opportunities employer.
The ICRC administers various special funds and awards for national societies, to help their work, or to Red Cross workers, either in recognition of their service or to provide practical assistance in case of hardship.
For more information, visit www.icrc.org