27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Shared principles

All action carried out by the Movement is deeply rooted in the seven Fundamental Principles: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality. Some of these, for example unity and universality, are specific to the Red Cross and Red Crescent; others, such as impartiality, govern the endeavours of many in the humanitarian field. There is one universal concept, however, that is at once the founding principle of the Movement, the guiding force behind all humanitarian action and what distinguishes all of us as human beings: humanity.

Humanity is not necessarily about great acts of heroism or even about doing good works. It is about respect for one's fellow human beings. This can be manifested simply by acceptance of someone's right to be different. It is no coincidence that the same word is used to describe humankind. No one has a monopoly on human values and the very fact that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is so far-reaching, and that 105 million people representing every race and culture in the world volunteer to work to uphold those values, is proof enough of their universal nature.

Better instincts

The Movement promotes this clear set of humanitarian principles through a vast outreach network. It cites the numerous international agreements which exist to protect the individual's physical integrity and dignity - the treaties of humanitarian law and human rights law are some obvious examples. But is it enough just to quote rules and regulations? Is it not also possible to influence the way people think and behave and to foster a climate of tolerance, mutual acceptance and peace?

There are a number of ways in which the Movement can contribute to a culture of humanity and non-violence and promote the principles and convictions which we all share. First and foremost, we have to set an example. Within the Movement, we need to be very clear about what we are and what we stand for. More emphasis should be placed on internal communication and training so that every single person who bears the red cross or red crescent emblem is fully versed in the Fundamental Principles and demonstrates them in his or her work. Equally, our partners need to know why we work in a given way and understand and respect our modus operandi.

States must respect the National Societies independence. National Societies must be open to all communities and remain neutral in the event of a conflict, especially if they want to be effective during a conflict and after it is over. An area in which National Societies can exert an important influence is reconstruction, which is not just about rebuilding houses, but also about rebuilding bridges between people. Hostile communities can be brought together to organize humanitarian projects such as reuniting dispersed families and the exchange of news, mine-awareness programmes and camps for disadvantaged children. One such project involved encouraging dialogue between young Serbs and Croats in the Srem-Branja region of Croatia in the aftermath of the civil war that pitted the two communities against each other.

What better place to start than with young people? They are naturally idealistic and enthusiastic. There is currently a decline in membership of all formal organizations, and Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are not exempt. Interestingly, the decline is stronger in industrialized countries than in the developing world, where some National Societies are recruiting widely among young people. A better understanding of why people volunteer and how to keep them motivated could help to reverse the trend. There is also a need to develop a language and approach that is sensitive to young people. Not only should they be encouraged to volunteer, but youth members should also be full partners in a National Society and have a say in the decision-making process. Their contribution and commitment to the humanitarian ideal are vital to the future of the Movement.

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A formidable challenge

Putting ideas into practice

A conference with a difference

Even wars have limits

No good or bad victims

Weapons: the humanitarian perspective

Disasters have no limits

Fine tuning the response

The worldwide health crisis

A role to develop

Shared principles