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Fundamental Principles


Safety through principles

In June of 2011, hostilities between rebel and government forces in South Kordofan, Sudan caused people in and around Kadougli and Kauda to flee their homes. Many settled in a makeshift camp where they received assistance from the Sudanese Red Crescent and other humanitarian actors.

Already facing difficulties with access and acceptance by various groups, the National Society soon faced another challenge: unknown persons wearing aprons bearing the Red Crescent emblem showed up and ordered the displaced people to leave the camp and go to a nearby stadium where they were told, falsely, that they would receive humanitarian aid. This blatant misuse of the emblem endangered the Sudanese Red Crescent, its personnel and its access to people affected by conflict.

Across the globe, National Societies often face challenges that can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of volunteers, staff and those in need of humanitarian assistance. As previously stable or peaceful countries confront unexpected turmoil or armed conflict, some National Societies are experiencing these challenges for the first time. Others find themselves working in increasingly complex and dangerous environments — for example, urban areas with high levels of violence.

For this reason, the ICRC has developed the Safer Access Framework (SAF), which draws on knowledge of National Societies that have experience working in insecure contexts. Rooted in strict adherence to the Fundamental Principles, SAF includes specific steps National Societies can take (particularly during peacetime) to enhance acceptance, security and access during times of turbulence.

One National Society doing this is the Mexican Red Cross, which has used SAF to reduce risks faced by emergency service personnel. Since implementing the framework in 2008, more than 18,000 volunteers have completed SAF workshops.

To raise the level of professional skills and the visibility of their neutral humanitarian mission, the Mexican Red Cross helped draft a bill on the use of and respect for the emblem (subsequently enacted by parliament), set up a nationwide system to log emergency services delivered in high-risk and violent situations, incorporated SAF into training manuals for emergency medical staff and began scaling up SAF courses in all 31 states, among other measures.

The ICRC also has a new package of guidance materials that include case studies showing how National Societies have dealt with difficult situations. Soon after the incident in South Kordofan, according to one of the case studies, the Sudanese Red Crescent issued a press release (in coordination with its Movement partners), organized a press conference and increased its efforts to publicize the Fundamental Principles, the emblem, international humanitarian law and the National Society’s role as an auxiliary to government. It also replaced all jackets and vests with new ones that can be traced by serial number. Since then, access to some critical areas has improved. To read more, visit

A question of fundamentals

As the Movement gears up to mark, in 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Movement’s adoption of the Fundamental Principles in 1965, there is renewed debate and discussion about their applicability. Here are articles about two distinct approaches toward application of the principles, followed on page 28 by an essay that takes a critical look at how the Movement seeks to implement the principle of independence.

National Society timeline

150 years of humanitarian action

Bangladesh Red Crescent Society
31 March 1973


Red Cross of Cape Verde
19 July 1975


Sao Tome and Principe Red Cross
20 January 1976


Tuvalu Red Cross Society
1977 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 1 May 1981. Awaiting ICRC recognition and admission to the IFRC.


Red Crescent Society of Djibouti
1 August 1977


Red Cross Society of

2 December 1977


Qatar Red Crescent Society

Angola Red Cross
16 March 1978


Andorran Red Cross
20 December 1980


Mozambique Red Cross Society
10 July 1981


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the timeline


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