Mission and Legal Status

The official mission statement says that: "The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral, and independent organization whose independently humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance." It also conducts and coordinates international relief and works to promote and strengthen international humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles. The core tasks of the Committee, which are derived from the Geneva Conventions and its own statutes are:

to monitor compliance of warring parties with the Geneva Conventions
to organize nursing and care for those who are wounded on the battlefield
to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war and make confidential interventions with detaining authorities
to help with the search for missing persons in an armed conflict (tracing service)
to organize protection and care for civil populations
to act as a neutral intermediary between warring parties
The ICRC drew up seven fundamental principles in 1965 that were adopted by the entire Red Cross Movement. They are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, volunteerism, unity, and universality.

The ICRC is the only institution explicitly named inr international humanitarian law as a controlling authority. The legal mandate of the ICRC stems from the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, as well as its own Statutes. The ICRC also undertakes tasks that are not specifically mandated by law, such as visiting political prisoners outside of conflict and providing relief in natural disasters.

The ICRC is a private association registered in Switzerland that has enjoyed various degrees of special privileges and legal immunities within the territory of Switzerland for many years. On 19 March 1993, a legal foundation for this special treatment was created by a formal agreement between the Swiss government and the ICRC. This agreement protects the full sanctity of all ICRC property in Switzerland including its headquarters and archive, grants members and staff legal immunity, exempts the ICRC from all taxes and fees, guarantees protected and duty-free transfer of goods, services, and money, provides the ICRC with secure communication privileges at the same level as foreign embassies, and simplifies Committee travel in and out of Switzerland. On the other hand, Switzerland does not recognize ICRC-issued passports.

Contrary to popular belief, the ICRC is not a sovereign entity like the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and also it is not an international organization, neither of non-governmental nor of governmental type. The ICRC limits its membership to Swiss nationals only, and also unlike most NGOs it does not have a policy of open and unrestricted membership for individuals as its new members are selected by the Committee itself (a process called cooptation). However, since the early 1990s, the ICRC employs persons from all over the world to serve in its field mission and at Headquarters. In 2007, almost half of ICRC staff was non-Swiss. The ICRC has special privileges and legal immunities in many countries, based on national law in these countries, based on agreements between the ICRC and the respective governments, or, in some cases, based on international jurisprudence (such as the right of ICRC delegates not to bear witness in front of international tribunals).