The Red Cross idea was born in 1859, when Henry Dunant, a young Swiss from Geneva, came upon the scene of the bloody battle of Solferino in Northern Italy, fight between the armies of imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance, about 40,000 laid dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were without medical attention.
Henry Dunant organized nearby people of Castiglione and Solferino-travellers, priests, housewives, available to provide the wounded with food and First Aid. In 1862 he published the book A Memory of Solferino, in which he described the horror of the fight and condition of the thousands of wounded left without proper care. Dunant called for the creation of national relief societies, an idea which eventually led to the formation of the Red Cross.
To help promote these ideas, four citizens of Geneva - General Henri Guillaume Dufour, Dr. Louis Appia, Dr. Theodore Maunoir and Gustave Moymer- Joined Henry Dunant and set up first the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which was later renamed as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In a conference held at Geneva where representatives from sixteen countries attended in October 1863. They adopted ten resolutions that formed the founding charter of the Red Cross, defining functions and working methods for the relief to the wounded. The Red Cross was then a reality.
However, the Committee's main task still lay ahead: to persuade the governments that the wounded and those carrying them should be considered non-combatants, since they were not or were no longer taking part in the fighting and needed protection. This concept of Neutrality has been embodied in an international treaty providing for the protection of war victims, medical personnel, hospitals and ambulances. In August 1864, the Swiss Government convened in Geneva a diplomatic conference, where the delegates of twelve participating governments adopted the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded Armies in the field.
This treaty, with its ten articles, is a milestone in the history of Humanity. Until then, war and law had been largely considered irreconcilable. From then on the wounded were to "be collected and cared for" and ambulances, military hospitals and medical staff were to be "recognized as neutral and, as such, protected and respected by the belligerent, to whatever nation they belong". The Convention recognized the Red Cross on white ground- first adopted in 1863 as the symbol of the embryonic Red Cross Movement- as a protective emblem to be used by all armies for identifying medical personnel, hospitals and ambulances.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a private, independent humanitarian organization, with its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The ICRC bases its activities on the provisions of International Humanitarian Law, and is neutral in politics, religion, and ideology. The ICRC upholds and disseminates the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, recognizes newly established or reconstituted National Societies which fulfil conditions for recognition, work for the observance, development and dissemination of International Humanitarian Law, and is nutral in politics, religion and ideology. The ICRC endeavors to assist and to ensure the protection of military and civilian victims of armed conflict and internal strife and their direct results. Within these roles, it may take any humanitarian initiative as a nutral and independent intermediary.
In May 1919, on the initiative of Henry P. Davison of the American Red Cross, representatives of American, British, French, Italian and Japanese Red Cross Societies came together to formally establish the League of Red Cross Societies which was the forerunner of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Its first objective was "to strengthen and unite for health activities of the existing Red Cross Societies and to promote the creation of new Societies".
Today the IFRC is a vast organization with 189 National Societies. When all its National Societies are taken together and the statistics for their national programmes are added up, revealed as an organization of 128 million members and volunteers and 263,000 staff. This makes the Federation a truly global entity, with enormous humanitarian potential.
The IFRC's main purposes are to assist its member National Societies in Disaster Preparedness and Response, in developing their activities, and to be their international spokesman and representative. The IFRC supports the National Societies and the ICRC in their efforts develops and disseminate the knowledge of International Humanitarian Law and to promote the Fundamental Principles. Among its member Societies, the Federation acts as both catalyst and coordinator. It is a forum for ideas and exchange of experience between the National Societies.
The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is the base of the Movement. There are 189 officially recognized Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal Societies, uniting 128 million individual members and volunteers and 263,000 employees. They provide emergency relief to victims of natural & man made disasters at both the national and international level; work in the fields of community development, social welfare and public health including health education, nursing and blood banks. In cooperation with their sister Societies, the Federation Secretariat and the ICRC, the National Societies disseminate international humanitarian law, the Fundamental Principles and the ideals of the Movement. To deliver their humanitarian services efficiently and effectively, the National Societies support each other in strengthening and development of their institutional and operational capacities.