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Our Principles in action


On 21 September 2015, the Red Cross EU Office and the ICRC delegation in Brussels held a joint panel discussion at the European Parliament celebrating 50 years of the Red Cross Red Crescent seven Fundamental Principles.

Proclaimed in Vienna in 1965, the Principles are an expression of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s practices and values, and define the identity and distinctiveness of the Movement. Throughout the discussion, it was apparent that they continue to inspire a wide variety of humanitarian actors in implementing their activities and achieving their goals.

The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence guarantee the provision of assistance based solely on need, regardless of other potential social, political, religious or economic considerations and interests. The additional Red Cross Red Crescent principles of voluntary service, universality and unity help structure our response so that local actors (National Societies) can do their work in a tailored and sustainable way, with the support and added value of global partners.

The event was hosted by the European Parliament Standing Rapporteur, Enrique Guerrero MEP, and moderated by Linda McAvan MEP, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Development.

The panel consisted of Florika Fink-Hooijer, Director of the European Commission, Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO);  Alexander Matheou, Director of Programmes, British Red Cross and Stephane Kolanowski, Senior Legal Advisor, ICRC.

Red Cross EU Office Director, Leon Prop introduced the session by underling the importance of a principled approach in delivering humanitarian aid universally and in every context: conflict and violence, natural disasters, migration, as well as in peacetime.

Linda McAvan MEP started the discussion by highlighting the current urgent challenges that all actors are now facing in the area of humanitarian aid. She spoke in light of the World Humanitarian Summit, a first of its kind, which will bring humanitarian organisations and states together in Istanbul in May 2016. The agenda will press on enabling humanitarian response to be better prepared in the face of growing humanitarian needs.

Ms McAvan then underlined the challenges that the EU is facing with regards to responding to the current migrant situation, sharing that during a recent visit to Turkey she observed the tremendous work the Red Crescent is doing to help the migrants in the region by applying a highly organised and principled approach.

Stephane Kolanowski continued by giving a background overview of the 50th anniversary of the principles, their meaning and importance, with a particular focus on the principles of Neutrality, Impartiality, Humanity and Independence.

Mr Kolanowski focused on the application of the Principles, highlighting that their perception by other actors can sometimes put Red Cross staff and volunteers in a difficult position. He gave the example of conflict situations, when ICRC staff often have to take difficult decisions based on our Fundamental Principles. Although they risk being judged critically, they will provide humanitarian assistance to all parties in a conflict.  Another example was that by not denouncing all violations to international treaties (Neutrality Principle application) the ICRC continues to maintain the trust of all, ensuring that those in need have access to neutral and impartial humanitarian assistance.

Mr Kolanowski concluded that it is this consistent approach over time that has enabled confidence in how the Red Cross Red Crescent uniquely operates, allowing the Movement to help millions of people in need of assistance.

Alexander Matheou explored the principles of Voluntary Service, Universality and Unity and how they provide a structure for implementing the first 4 principles. He showcased their added value and a unique approach of the RCRC: a massive global phenomena with a highly localised approach.

He highlighted that these three Principles can provide a much needed anchor for responding in all areas and situations that require humanitarian assistance, and not just where the media cameras follow. One example is that of Voluntary Service: Because it is voluntary, the response turns into a systematic, experienced, professionally delivered humanitarian assistance. As Mr Matheou said, ''it is not what we give to those in need, it is how we give it’’.

Florika Fink-Hooijer noted that the first four principles of the Red Cross are also at the core of the values upon which the European Union was built, and they they are the ones on which ECHO bases its activity. Ms Fink-Hooijer further on presented ECHO’s perspective and how they see themselves as a principled donor. In light of the EU's "comprehensive" external relations, she explained that ECHO's needs-based approach is achieved by deciding on the inclusion of humanitarian aid on a case-by-case basis.

Ms Fink-Hooijer then continued by paying tribute the IFRC and ICRC for their way of delivering on their Principles, a main reason for which ECHO searches the continued partnership with the Movement.

Enrique Guerrero MEP continued the reflection and noted that ''you can be in, you can be out, but never aside''. He stressed that ‘’In face of today's humanitarian challenges, the principles are more than ever a global necessity’’.

He emphasised that the need for strong partnerships and effective humanitarian response to protect human life is growing ‘’in a colossal way and beyond expectations’’ and that the Principles are a mode of conduct and they should be the framework for a more coordinated humanitarian response by all actors. Mr Guerrero reminded about the various challenging situations the world is facing today and pressed that the World Humanitarian Summit next year is a massive opportunity for all humanitarian actors to bring a better and stronger framework for humanitarian aid worldwide.

Concluding the panel discussion, Mr Prop addressed the audience with a reflection on our principled action not only for the past fifty years, but also since the beginning of the movement 150 years ago. This principled approach is what makes our Movement a reliable partner for those we work with. The ensuring success of the principles is evident in the fact that other humanitarian organisations have adopted some of them to their own work.

Thank you to all involved in the discussion and for keeping our Principles, of which we are very passionate about, at the heart of humanitarian aid activities.’’ Mr Prop said.


To mark the 50th anniversary of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's Fundamental Principles, a dedicated website has also been developed and you can view it here.

Voices to Action, a new initiative from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, aims to bring attention to the humanitarian crises that millions face every day, and gather insight on how prepared people feel to tackle local and global challenges.

A short video from the event is available below, in French:


For media inquiries, please contact Eva Oyón on: or +32 2 235 09 22

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