150 Years of Humanitarianism was celebrated around the globe


red cross logoThe ICRC, established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war.

An independent and neutral organization, its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it employs some 12,000 people in 80 countries; it is financed mainly by voluntary donations from governments and from national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

ICRC 150 years

The ICRC was founded as a result of the work of Henry Dunant, a Swiss, at the battle of Solferino (1859), where thousands of wounded French, Austrian and Italian soldiers were left without adequate medical care. Dunant’s book – A Memory of Solferino (1862) – led to the adoption of the first Geneva Convention (1864), laying out rules to protect wounded soldiers and medics, and to the creation of relief societies in each country.

These bodies became known as Red Cross Societies, referring to the universal emblem adopted to identify and protect medical units. (The red crescent emblem was introduced in the 1880s.)

Since its foundation, the ICRC has played a humanitarian role in most of the conflicts that have taken place around the world. It has continuously worked to persuade States to expand the legal protection of war victims, to limit suffering.

The ICRC, the national societies and their International Federation form the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. In situations of armed conflict the ICRC coordinates the response by its Movement partners.

The ICRC has a permanent international mandate for its work. This derives from the 1949 Geneva Conventions – agreed to by every State in the world – and from the Statutes of the Movement.

red cross warHowever, the ICRC remains a private organisation governed by Swiss law and strictly independent in its governance and operational decisions. The Committee itself consists of up to 25 co-opted members, all Swiss. The ICRC’s work respects the Movement’s fundamental principles, notably those of neutrality, impartiality and independence.

The ICRC’s annual budget in recent years has been in the region of one billion Swiss francs (USD, EUR…). Its principal donors are governments, regional organisations, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, municipal authorities, the private sector and members of the public. National societies also make an important contribution in terms of specialized personnel. ICRC accounts are explained every year in the annual report.

More than 1,400 specialized staff and generalists are currently on field missions for the ICRC across the globe. They work with some 11,000 local employees, supported and coordinated by around 800 staff at its Geneva headquarters. Expatriate staff members can be from countries anywhere in world; the ICRC is an equal opportunities employer.

The ICRC administers various special funds and awards for national societies, to help their work, or to Red Cross workers, either in recognition of their service or to provide practical assistance in case of hardship.


On 17 February 1863, a group of citizens of Geneva founded an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which later became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

150 Years of Taking Positive Action !!!


On 22 August 1864, twelve States signed a treaty on the neutrality of wounded soldiers and the personnel caring for them: the Geneva Convention was born

Starting in 1875, uprisings against the Ottoman Empire spread throughout the Balkans, prompting the ICRC to send its first mission to the field.

1914-main1914-1918: THE ICRC IN ACTION
During the First World War the ICRC set up an international agency for centralizing information about prisoners of war and enabling families to send them relief parcels.

By the end of the First World War the ICRC was involved in several relief and assistance operations in Europe and Asia.

On 27 July 1929 a diplomatic conference adopted the Third Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war in international conflicts.

In Spain the ICRC was confronted with a conflict of extreme violence which foreshadowed the total warfare of 1939 to 1945.

1939-main1939-1945: YEARS OF BLOOD AND FIRE
The ICRC’s work during the Second World War was unprecedented. However, these years were also a time of failure, as symbolized foremost by the fact that the ICRC was not granted access to the victims of Nazi camps.

On 12 August 1949 the four Geneva Conventions for the protection of victims of war were adopted.

1950-1953: THE KOREAN WAR
The Korean war, the first major international conflict after the Second World War, was marked by the threat of a potential use of nuclear weapons.

During the conflict in Algeria the ICRC was recognized by both parties to the hostilities. This enabled it to carry out humanitarian activities in the field both during and after the conflict.

Aside from carrying out its traditional activities the ICRC also set up medical programmes, which included the opening of a field hospital and operating theatre in the middle of the desert at Uqhd.

Although after 1980 the ICRC was able to assist refugee populations in South-East Asia, its activities during the Vietnam war were difficult on both sides. In Cambodia the ICRC was not able to carry out its activities until after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

The Six-Day War marked the beginning of a permanent ICRC presence in this part of the Middle East.

1968-1970: SOS BIAFRA
An air bridge was set up to deliver vast amounts of food and relief goods to the most vulnerable members of the civilian population, in particular children.

The ICRC’s activities in Latin America concentrated on the victims of authoritarian regimes, the priority being visits to places of detention.

1980-1988: THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR
During the bloody conflict between Iraq and Iran the ICRC carried out activities on behalf of prisoners of war on both sides.

1983-main1983: CIVIL WAR IN SUDAN
What had begun has an armed uprising in the south of Sudan against the government in Khartoum transformed over the course of several years into a complex conflict characterized by frequent shifts in alliances.

At the same time as it was carrying out operations during the Persian Gulf War, the ICRC was faced with the challenge of the “new” conflicts that broke out following the collapse of the Eastern bloc and hostilities of extreme violence, such as in West Africa.

When the massacres in Rwanda started in April 1994, the ICRC did the best it could to assist population groups threatened by the killings as well as displaced people.

The “war on terror” declared after the attacks that struck New York on 11 September, and the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, raised a number of new challenges for the ICRC.

Despite certain similarities, the events of the “Arab Spring” that swept through several countries in North Africa and the Middle East differed in terms of their humanitarian consequences.

The ICRC works to help and protect the millions all over the world who suffer the effects of conflict and armed violence.

In conversation with James Kisia, Deputy Secretary General of the Kenyan Red Cross. In this video, James Kisia of the Kenyan Red Cross talks about how investing in communities and sharing skills and technology is empowering communities in Kenya. He also talks about the role of Kenyan corporations in raising funds for humanitarian work. International Committee of the Red Cross, 1863 – 2013: 150 years of Humanitarian Action.


Reaching people in need

challenges-1-kg-e-00141We believe that it’s essential to be on-the-ground and in close proximity to the people we help.

This way we can better understand their needs and respond appropriately and efficiently. Our partnerships with national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are key to this proximity.

ICRC president Peter Maurer talks about the challenges that ICRC field staff face when it comes to reaching the people who need them.

Armed conflict is as old as humankind itself. There have always been customary practices in war, but only in the last 150 years have States made international rules to limit the effects of armed conflict for humanitarian reasons. The Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions are the main examples. Usually called international humanitarian law (IHL), it is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.

International humanitarian law is part of the body of international law that governs relations between States. IHL aims to limit the effects of armed conflicts for humanitarian reasons. It aims to protect persons who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities, the sick and wounded, prisoners and civilians, and to define the rights and obligations of the parties to a conflict in the conduct of hostilities.

Because it is law, IHL imposes obligations on those engaged in armed conflict. Not only must they respect the law, they have an obligation to ensure respect as well. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye.

The cornerstone of IHL is the Geneva Conventions. The first was signed by 16 countries in 1864. For centuries before then, rules had applied to the conduct of war, but they were based on custom and tradition, were local or just temporary. 1864 changed all that and began a process of building a body of law that is still evolving today.

The initiative for the first convention came from five citizens of Geneva. One of them, Henry Dunant, had, by chance, witnessed the battle of Solferino in 1859. He was appalled by the lack of help for the wounded and organized local residents to come to their aid. Out of this act came one of the key elements of the first convention – the humane treatment of those no longer part of the battle, regardless of which side they were on.

It was at this time, too, that a neutral protective sign for those helping the victims of conflict was adopted; a red cross on a white background, the exact reverse of the Swiss flag.

In the century and a half that followed the body of international humanitarian law grew. The Geneva Convention was extended, in 1906 and 1929 so as to improve the conditions of sick and wounded soldiers in the field and to define new rules on the protection of prisoners of war. In 1899 and 1907, the Hague Conventions, mainly aimed at regulating the conduct of warfare, were also adopted. In August 1949, the four Geneva Conventions as we know them today were adopted. This time they also included the protection of civilians, reflecting the terrible experience of World War II.

Protocols were added to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 and 2005, and a range of other international conventions and protocols covering specific areas such as conventional weapons, chemical weapons, landmines, laser weapons, cluster munitions and the protection of children in armed conflicts has developed the reach of IHL. So too has the codification of customary law.

The core, however, remains the Geneva Conventions and their additional Protocols. They combine clear legal obligations and enshrine basic humanitarian principles.

• Soldiers who surrender or who are hors de combat are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. It is forbidden to kill or injure them.

• The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. Protection also covers medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment. The emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal is the sign of such protection and must be respected.

• Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.

• Civilians under the authority of a party to the conflict or an occupying power of which they are not nationals are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions.

• Everyone must be entitled to benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one must be sentenced without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. No one must be held responsible for an act he has not committed. No one must be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.

• Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.

• Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is regarded as the “guardian” of the Geneva Conventions and the various other treaties that constitute international humanitarian law. It cannot, however, act as either policeman or judge. These functions belong to governments, the parties to international treaties, who are required to prevent and put an end to violation of IHL. They have also an obligation to punish those responsible of what are known as “grave breaches” of IHL or war crimes.

red cross md_logo-review-889Staying close to the people we serve while also ensuring the safety of our staff is a serious challenge in many parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria or Somalia. Fighting and insecurity often prevent aid workers from reaching people caught up in armed conflict.

In some cases, the authorities or rebel groups hinder the delivery of aid or simply refuse access to vulnerable communities. In rare but nonetheless distressing cases, we have had to face the difficult choice of suspending our vital humanitarian work because of insecurity or political barriers.

For us, ensuring that fighting parties understand that we do not take sides and are only interested in helping impartially those suffering the consequences of conflict or violence is the key for reaching the people that so desperately need help.

2013 celebrates another 150 Years of Taking Action

Red Cross in BurmaFresh dangers facing International Red Cross in 21st century

Leaderless guerrilla groups, narco-traffickers and drone attacks are challenges facing ICRC teams around the world, says its president.

Monks and Red Cross staff gather as Burmese firefighters put out blazes following riots between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila last week. Ethnic unrest like this is not an uncommon situation for the Red Cross to deal with these days, its president says.



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