Respecting people's lives, dignity and wellbeing no matter who they are. 


Fumiko Nakashima, Protection Delegate


1.      Why did you decide to join the ICRC?

I chose the ICRC because I identified with its values. Its work is guided by international humanitarian law – a set of rules that apply specifically to armed conflict – and the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. In both cases, the emphasis is on respecting people’s lives, dignity, and physical and mental well-being, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Everyone at the ICRC upholds these rules and principles. That struck a chord with me.

I was also drawn to the fact that its universally recognized mandate is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The Conventions recognize the ICRC as an impartial humanitarian organization and its right of initiative to protect and assist victims of armed conflict. Having that solid legal basis can give you more leverage and legitimacy out in the field.

2.      What does working for the ICRC mean to you?

As an ICRC delegate, I represent a neutral, impartial, independent humanitarian organization with a mandate entrusted to it by the international community. Being relatively immune to political pressures and local grievances means I can make a real difference on the ground.


"My personal highlights include reuniting separated children with their families and helping to secure the release of soldiers captured by parties to the conflict. I’ve also documented humanitarian law violations and sat down with the authorities to discuss ways to improve compliance." 


The work is fascinating, and so are the people. I feel a real sense of belonging.

3.      What skills do you need to work in the field?

A few key attributes spring to mind. When you’re working out in the field, you have to operate in multicultural settings and be able to build relationships. So you need to be a strong leader, a team player and an effective communicator. You also need a sharp analytical mind so you can weigh up the evidence. And, of course, you have to be a skilled decision-maker. Let me expand on that with an example:


"Imagine you land in the middle of a desert wearing a Red Cross bib..." 


Standing in front of you is the commander of an armed opposition group surrounded by his heavily armed subordinates. You’re there to take eight captured soldiers from the group and transfer them back to the State armed forces. Both sides have asked the ICRC to act as a neutral intermediary after agreeing to release the soldiers on humanitarian grounds.

For security reasons, you only have 15 minutes on the ground. After briefly greeting the commander, you head over to the captured soldiers huddled under a makeshift hut a few yards away. You check their names and make sure they wish to return. You tick them off one by one, but the eighth soldier’s name doesn’t match the name on the list both sides agreed a few days ago.

Do you take the soldier back with the others or do you leave him behind? You have three minutes to decide. The soldier is seriously wounded. Your satellite phone isn’t working. The helicopter is already hovering above the ground. The odds of organizing a second operation are slim. Under ICRC protection rules, all parties to the conflict must agree before the organization can assist in releasing and transferring captured soldiers.[MH1] 

In situations like these, you have to make the right decision – and do it quickly. People’s lives and dignity depend on it. ICRC staff in the field enjoy a large degree of discretion, especially when circumstances are complex, fast-moving and potentially dangerous. Experience has taught me when I should follow the spirit – rather than the letter – of the guidelines. After all, manuals can never cover every eventuality. And, as the saying goes, “rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of the wise”.

4.      What advice would you give to someone who’s about to be deployed for the first time?

Talk to your family and your loved ones. Start by explaining why you’ve chosen this particular assignment. Then tell them a little bit about the ICRC – who we are, what we do and how we work. The people you leave behind won’t have much information once you’re gone, and they might be apprehensive at the thought of you working in a dangerous conflict zone.

Being a humanitarian worker inevitably carries a degree of risk. Agreeing to be deployed in the field means you’ve accepted that risk.

The ICRC has security rules and measures in place to keep its staff safe, and the organization always weighs the potential risk against an operation’s humanitarian impact. Imagine a bomb explodes in the capital city of the country where you’re deployed. That doesn’t necessarily mean your life’s in danger, because your duty station could be hundreds of miles away. Likewise, the ICRC will seek security assurances from the parties to the conflict before arranging an aid delivery behind the front line. And engaging with armed groups is more likely to build trust in the ICRC than make you a potential target.

So before you’re deployed, especially if you’re heading to a volatile conflict zone, talk through your decision with your loved ones. Also explain what the ICRC does and what its responsibilities are towards its staff. Doing so will help to alleviate their concerns, clear up any misunderstandings, and make them more likely to trust your decision and the organization.

5.      What tips do you have for someone who wants to join the ICRC?

There’s little opportunity to see ICRC staff at work in conflict zones, so I’d recommend a visit to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum. The museum’s permanent exhibition, The Humanitarian Adventure, paints a vivid portrait of the ICRC over its 150-year history: from its conception after the battle of Solferino in 1859, its founding in 1863 and the adoption of the 1864 Geneva Convention, to what it has become today – a humanitarian organization helping the victims of armed conflict and violence worldwide. You’ll also learn about the other two components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: the National Societies and the International Federation. If you’ve ever considered joining, what you see at the museum might well inspire you to take that next step.