By Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been in Kathmandu on 25 April, when the ground started to shake. Imagine the terror and fear for your family, your friends and for yourself. Imagine the overwhelming instinct to flee, to grab your loved ones and escape.
Can you imagine, then, in the dust and amidst the screams of survivors, the courage that it would have taken to decide to run the other way, to run towards the collapsed building, towards the fear and the risk of death.
Within minutes, volunteers from the Nepal Red Cross were responding. They helped search and rescue teams dig people from the ruins, and provided first aid to people injured in the quake. Within hours, they were handing out relief supplies, including tarpaulins and ropes so that people could have shelter from the elements.
In Nepal, and in every disaster or conflict situation around the world, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers share this instinct. When people are in need, our volunteers are among those who decide to run towards danger. Some of them may not be able to articulate what drives them, beyond perhaps a deep feeling that they want to help, that they want to make a difference.
In truth, these volunteers, like their brothers and sisters in Syria, Yemen, West Africa, across the Mediterranean and around the world, are guided by our Fundamental Principles. Neutral and impartial humanitarian action, delivered by volunteers, has been at the heart of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s work since our very beginnings. Formally adopted 50 years ago, our Fundamental Principles - Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality – are the basis of all our decisions and actions.
Humanitarian needs and the places where we serve are growing more complex. Sadly, we are seeing a creeping disregard in some places for principles. In today’s humanitarian landscape, we cannot afford for our Fundamental Principles to be misunderstood or politicized. They remain constant, guiding our actions and ensuring we always work in service to communities – regardless of race, creed or colour.
Today, on World Red Cross Red Crescent Day (8 May), we are launching a global conversation to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of adoption of our principles, and to reaffirm their continued relevance.
The campaign – “Our principles in action” – will look at the role our principles continue to play every day in the delivery of our humanitarian mission. It will demonstrate how their application allows people to retain their dignity and find hope in the face of conflict, disaster or crisis.
The Fundamental Principles safeguard the continuity of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and ensure that we act in a consistent and cohesive manner. They are the foundation of our commitment to serve vulnerable individuals and communities everywhere, now and in the future.
Reasserting the Fundamental Principles in today’s complex humanitarian environment can save lives. Whether helping communities cope with Ebola, supporting people fleeing violence in a refugee camp, providing opportunities for education in slums, taking aid into areas of conflict, or responding to a devastating disaster such as the Nepal earthquake, we have to build trust and make certain that our principles are universally understood and respected at all times.
To learn more, visit: www.fundamentalprinciples.today.