The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the world's largest group of humanitarian non-governmental organizations, often known simply as the Red Cross, after its original symbol. The Movement is composed of, but must be distinguished from:
The Red Cross movement now has more than 115 million volunteers.
In 1859, Henry Dunant witnessed the carnage at the Battle of Solférino, where the victory of the French over the Austrians left 40,000 dead and wounded. Although he had been simply passing by, he stayed to help the wounded in the nearby town of Castiglione for three days.
In October 1862, Dunant published the Nine Articles of his Un Souvenir de Solférino ("A Memory of Solferino"), in which he advocated the establishment of an international network of volunteer relief agencies to act as an "army" of medical services in times of war. Dunant met with four other Swiss people (General Henri Dufour, Gustave Moynier, Dr. Louis Appia and Dr. Théodore Maunoir) on February 9, 1863 to form a committee which later became the ICRC.
To implement Dunant's ideas, the Swiss government sponsored an international conference of 36 representatives from 14 countries in Geneva. They agreed on October 29, 1863, to form the International Red Cross. Almost one year later, on August 8, 1864, a diplomatic conference met again in Geneva with 24 delegates from 16 countries. On August 22, 1864, these representatives adopted the first Geneva Convention, which became the basis for the ICRC.
On 5 May 1919, at the Cannes Conference, the national Red Cross organizations of France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States formed the "League of Red Cross Societies". Its purpose was to establish a peacetime role in public health for the Red Cross. A famine with a typhus outbreak in Poland became the League's first mission. The League headquarters were in Paris although they were evacuated to Geneva on 5 September 1939.
The League of Red Cross Societies changed its name in 1986 to the "International Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent" in recognition of its Muslim Red Crescent branches.
Dunant is now considered the founder of the Red Cross movement, and he was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. The ICRC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize again in 1917 and 1944, to recognise its activities in the two World Wars, and jointly with the IFRCS in 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Movement.
The Red Cross provides humanitarian assistance, medical aid and emergency relief around the world during natural disasters and wars. It was very active in military conflicts, especially in World War I and World War II. The Red Cross offers training in first aid, CPR, disaster assistance, lifeguard training, swimming safety and even safe babysitting. The Red Cross also runs blood banks in several countries. The Red Cross run various public health programs and even provides home care services for the elderly in some countries. The Red Cross provides care packages for POWs, inspections of POW camps, registration and reunion services for refugees and passports and travel documents for stateless persons.
Fundamental principles of the Movement
The seven fundamental principles of the Movement were first proclaimed in 1965.
- Humanity – to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being; to prevent and alleviate all human suffering.
- Impartiality – no discrimination on grounds of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.
- Neutrality – the Movement does not take sides in hostilities, nor engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.
- Independence – a national society may work alongside its own national governments, but must maintain its autonomy.
- Voluntary service – relief is provided with no desire for gain or profit.
- Unity – each country may only have one national society which is open to all, and which must carry on its work throughout the country.
- Universality – all national societies have equal status and share equally in their responsibilities and duties as part of the worldwide Red Cross movement.
The red cross (an inversion of the flag of Switzerland) was adopted as the symbol of the movement under the original Geneva Convention. However, in the 1870s, the Ottoman Empire refused to use the red cross and declared that, while it would still recognise the red cross when used by others, it would use the red crescent instead. In 1929, the red crescent, as then in use in Egypt and Turkey, and the red lion and sun, as used in Persia, were both formally recognised as alternative emblems, and this situation is reflected in Article 38 of the First Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949 which recognizes three emblems for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement:
- the red cross
- the red crescent
- the red lion and sun (not used since 1980, when following the Iranian Revolution, Iran began using the red crescent)
The red cross
logo at the international museum
As of 2004, the movement accepts these three symbols and refuses to recognize additional ones, requiring all organisations to accept either the red cross or the red crescent emblems. (These are also the only symbols recognized under the Geneva Conventions of 1949.) Although they are not intended to have any religious significance, they are sometimes seen as religious symbols and thus some nations are not comfortable using them. The religious connotation may also compromise their neutrality in some circumstances.
For this reason, a proposal has been put forth to create a new emblem which would be acceptable to all nations regardless of culture or religion. According to the proposal, individual nations could choose to use the new emblem instead of the cross or the crescent, although the cross and crescent would continue to be permitted and recognized. The new emblem was at one point thought to be the red diamond, which would be neutral yet simple and recognisable (and might perhaps be used in conjunction with an a local symbol, such as the red Star of David used by Israel's Magen David Adom), but little progress has been made to implement this idea. It is not a simple undertaking, since it would require a modification of the Geneva Conventions as well as agreement of all Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is located in Geneva. Its exhibits include a historical account of the founding of the movement, its predecessors, mementos from its activities around the world, and most interestingly records of prisoners of war from World War I. Mementos include promotional posters and artifacts made by prisoners visited by the movement.
- Official Red Cross Web Site (http://www.redcross.int)
- Red Cross Web Site: Information regarding the Emblem Debate (http://www.redcross.int/en/emblem/index.asp)
- Red Cross Web Site: Graphic images of the traditional emblems plus the new proposed one (http://www.redcross.int/EN/emblem/gx1.asp)
- The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum official website (http://www.micr.org/)