Today in history: the founding of the Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent, impartial humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its mission is humanitarian protection and to help victims of war and armed conflict. The ICRC has centers in 80 countries and employs around 12,000 people worldwide.

The ICRC was established around 150 years ago. On 24 June 1859, Austrian and French armies were engaged in a fierce battle in Solferino, northern Italy. Sixteen hours of bloody fighting left 40,000 people wounded and dead.

On the same day a Swiss national named Henry Dunant arrived in Italy on a business trip. Shocked at the spectacle of thousands of victims who had been left to die because of a lack of medical services on the battlefield, Dunant called on local residents to rescue the victims.

On returning to Switzerland, Dunant published a book, A Memory of Solferino, recording his experiences and calling for a neutral organization to be established to look after the war wounded. He also called for volunteers who assist army medical services to be recognized and protected.

On 16 February 1863, Dunant founded the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, a commission of five members which later became the ICRC. The aim of the commission was to look into the feasibility of Dunant’s ideas.

The committee was renamed "The International Committee for Relief to the Wounded". Sixteen states and four humanitarian organizations dispatched delegates to attend an international conference held in October 1863 in Geneva to examine ways to enhance medical services during times of war.

It was also this conference that approved the ICRC’s symbol as we know it today.

In order for the Red Cross and its humanitarian values to gain international recognition, the Swiss government held a diplomatic conference in Geneva in 1864, at which 12 government delegates adopted the Geneva convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field–the first ever convention relating to humanitarian law.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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