Other issues


Quality and accountability

As a diverse network ICVA recognises there are different views among its members on quality and accountability initiatives and positions. The goal of humanitarian accountability is to ensure that all humanitarian work is planned and implemented in a way that respects the views, capacities and disposition of disaster survivors. People affected by conflict or natural disasters have acute needs due to trauma, displacement and disruption of social and economic systems. They rarely have much choice in how the relief is administered, and lack access to formal procedures and mechanisms for feedback or to voice complaints if services are inadequate. 

During the last 20 years humanitarian organisations have developed a variety of standards and accountability mechanisms to ensure high quality humanitarian assistance. Standards are core to quality and accountability mechanisms, however the use of standards in the humanitarian sector is broad. Individual agencies and families have their own manuals, policies and guidelines regarding a wide range of their work in humanitarian crises. Inter-agency initiatives include the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, and the work of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) International, People In Aid and the Sphere Project. In order to be accountable organisations have to be transparent and responsive regarding their compliance with their own or other agreed standards on policy and practice.

ICVA believes that humanitarian principles should be at the centre of any standard, and quality and accountability work should focus on the immense gap between policy and practice. ICVA aims to see quality and accountability initiatives making a difference on the ground and accessible by all agencies including local and national agencies. 

ICVA has identified the following accountability and humanitarian principles as minimum commitments for ICVA members:

Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief

• The SPHERE Project

Back to top

Civil-Military coordination

In many emergency or natural disaster crises local and international humanitarian organisations share an operational environment with military or paramilitary organisations. ICVA recognises that among its members there is not a consensus view on the appropriate level and form of interaction humanitarian agencies should have with the military. Guidance produced by humanitarian organisations and bodies such as the United Nations Inter/Agency Standing Committee (IASC) acknowledges the need for coordination between civil and military actors in conflicts and natural disasters. Militaries rarely play a purely humanitarian role, even in natural disaster response so humanitarian organisations need to focus on promoting a human rights based approach, adherence to International humanitarian law and the protection of the crisis affected populations. 

Neither the IASC guidelines on civil military coordination nor the Oslo Guidelines on the use of military assets in disaster response are comprehensive in the guidance they offer particularly in complex emergencies. In order to improve the delivery of assistance to crisis affected people, dialogue between the humanitarian agencies and the military are essential and there is a growing need for humanitarian actors to review their commitment to principled action with the military and to update approaches and mechanisms to achieve this. The fundamental purpose of civil-military dialogue is to improve the delivery of assistance to conflict and disaster affected people. 

Back to top

Humanitarian Principles

ICVA’s mission is to make humanitarian response more principled and effective, as its members believe that a rights-based approach, and operations and advocacy based on core humanitarian principles, will benefit people affected by disasters, conflict, and crises. Humanitarian Principles are therefore, fundamental to ICVA’s work with NGOs and other humanitarian stakeholders. ICVA advocates this perspective when dealing with various stakeholders including the UN Security Council, member states and NGOs. 

The core humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and operational independence provide the foundations for humanitarian action. The principles are rooted in the Geneva Conventions and endorsed by the UN General Assembly as guidelines for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) delivering humanitarian assistance.

Humanity: Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for human beings.

Neutrality: Humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

Impartiality: Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions 

Independence: Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

Commitment to these principles has also been expressed in the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and non-governmental organisations in disaster relief, and in the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response of the Sphere Project.

ICVA works with NGOs and other humanitarian stakeholders to promote an active dialogue on humanitarian principles and help NGOs understand their application during crises and humanitarian response.

Back to top

Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief was developed and agreed upon by eight of the world's largest disaster response agencies in the summer of 1994 and represented a huge leap forward in setting standards for disaster response. It is being used by the International Federation to monitor its own standards of relief delivery and to encourage other agencies to set similar standards.

The Code of Conduct is a voluntary one. The Code lays out ten points of principle which all humanitarian workers should adhere to in their disaster response work. The Code also has three important annexes which describe the relationships that agencies working in disasters should seek with donor governments, host governments and the UN system. ICVA and the ICRC regularly co-facilitate learning events on the Code of Conduct. These events familiarise participants with the Code of Conduct and explores the application of humanitarian principles in operations. 

Principles of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes

1. The humanitarian imperative comes first.

2. Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone.

3. Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.

4. We shall endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy.

5. We shall respect culture and custom.

6. We shall attempt to build disaster response on local capacities.

7. Ways shall be found to involve programme beneficiaries in the management of relief aid.

8. Relief aid must strive to reduce future vulnerabilities to disaster as well as meeting basic needs.

9. We hold ourselves accountable to both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources.

10. In our information, publicity and advertising activities, we shall recognize disaster victims as dignified human beings, not hopeless objects.

Back to top


Humanitarian actors, with the lead of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), have been developing what is called International Disaster Response Law (IDRL) deriving from principles in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and customary law principles. It aims at clarifying responsibilities and facilitated cooperation in situations of natural disasters. IDRL Guidelines are recommendations to governments on how to best structure their domestic laws relating to disaster management, and include guidance on coordination among organisations and governments, free passage of essential items and medical personel, and legal recognition of humanitarian organisations to operate. They are not legally binding, but serve to promote uniform legislation throughout countries to improve the response to natural disasters and facilitate fast and efficient recovery to an affected population. 

ICVA regards this initiative as an important complementary component to IHL and has been involved in its development and promotion, including through co-hosting the International Dialogue on Strengthening Partnership in Disaster Response.

Back to top