Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

Humanitarian principles

We uphold the dignity of displaced people through the integrity of our work.

Our stance on humanitarian principles

As a humanitarian agency, NRC works objectively, independently and without bias. We are bound to the principles of humanitarian action.

Since the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement first promoted them in the 19th century, these principles have shaped the nature of modern aid. Today, their core is reflected in international humanitarian law.

Not just a doctrine, the principles serve as practical tools to guide and enable our everyday work.

The core of our mission never wavers: to protect the rights of displaced people during crisis. So we put these principles to practice.

The humanitarian principles

To prevent and alleviate suffering wherever it may be found. To protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being.

To carry out humanitarian action without discrimination, to relieve suffering, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

To remain independent from political, economic, military or other non-humanitarian objectives.

To abstain from taking sides in hostilities. To refrain from engagement in political, religious, racial or ideological debates and controversies.

Strengthening the principles: our advocacy work

Organisations such as NRC use these principles to identify the people who are most in need of assistance and protection. We then use the principles to gain access to them, through negotiations with communities and the parties to the armed conflict.

Even though there is a strong awareness of these principles, agencies sometimes struggle to apply them. For instance, a state's policies can make it difficult to deliver aid and still remain impartial.

NRC works to increase awareness of, and adherence to, these principles. Our office in Geneva provides policy guidance and influences processes that will help protect, assist and gain access to people forced to flee.

  • We engage in dialogue with governments and humanitarian actors.
  • We organise workshops, roundtables, high-level conferences and meetings with governments and non-governmental humanitarian actors.
  • We undertake practical research and document our main findings.
  • We develop tools and strategies to reinforce humanitarian access.


Video produced by NRC for the WHS Special Session on Humanitarian Principles in Istanbul, May 2016. Special thanks to Swiss Humanitarian Aid (SDC).