Every program and activity done by the Red Cross and Red Crescent is guided by our seven fundamental principles: Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. Each of these principles plays an important part in decision-making and how the actions of the Red Cross and Red Crescent are governed. Today we’re taking a closer look at fundamental principle #3: Neutrality.

What neutrality means is that we don’t pick sides. That means we will not take part in wars or other conflicts, and we will not choose sides when it comes to issues of politics, religions, ideologies or race. As you may imagine, neutrality can be very difficult at times, but it is incredibly important to our work.

Because the Red Cross is neutral, we are able to deliver aid to the most vulnerable people. An example of this was when members of the Red Crescent were able to deliver critical aid to people in sieged cities in Syria. Had the Red Cross chosen sides in that conflict, it is very unlikely we would have been permitted to access people who desperately needed help.

But doesn’t the Red Cross work with governments during conflicts? Yes, we do – but that does not mean we are participating in hostilities. Red Cross and Red Crescent will work with the medical services of armed forces as humanitarians. Our principle of impartiality means that we will help the most vulnerable, regardless of what side of a conflict they are on.

This does put aid workers at risk, as they can become targets of attack in order to weaken an opposing side. Targeting aid workers, like healthcare providers, is a violation of International Humanitarian Law, but unfortunately it does happen.  

Another aspect of neutrality is that the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is truly international, and made up of diverse people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. To choose sides would isolate members of the Red Cross and make it difficult for them to work with us. It also means that people might not turn to the Red Cross for support, because they might be concerned that our care would be influenced by beliefs.

The mission of the Red Cross is to alleviate human suffering, and by remaining neutral we are able to reach the most vulnerable.