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Henry Dunant - Founder of the Red Cross


In 1859 a Swiss businessman Henry Dunant passed through Solerfino in Italy where a bloody battle had been fought between the French and Italians on the one side, and the Austrians on the other. He was appalled by the carnage and the lack of provision for the care of the wounded by the military.


He then organised volunteers to attend to the victims and launched an immediate relief campaign. After returning to Switzerland, he reported to the world what he had seen. He published "Souvenir of Solferino", a book which stirred the conscience of Europe. In this book, he described his experiences and the insufficiencies of the armed forces' medical services. He suggested that aid societies be formed in every country during times of peace, and that their services to the victims of disasters - including those of war - be neutral. In 1864, only five years after his trip to Solferino, twelve nations signed a Convention prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross called "Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick of Armies in the Field". This first Geneva Convention provided for the neutrality, protection and respectful treatment of ambulances, field hospitals and medical personnel of the Red Cross, and authorised them to care for and nurse the wounded, irrespective of their nationality and of the side they had taken during the hostilities.


Four fellow Swiss- the banker, Gustave Moynier, General Guillaume-Henri Dufour as well as Doctors Louis Appia and Théodore Maunoir – joined Dunant and formed the “International committee for relief of the wounded” from which stems the International Committee of the Red Cross.


By 1864 twelve nations had a draft agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross regarding “the amelioration of the conditions of wounded soldiers in the field”. In this first Geneva Convention the status of ambulances, medical centres, and medical personnel from the Red Cross as neutral was acknowledged. As was that the wounded should be protected and their status respected, and they should be cared for equally regardless of which side they had taken in the conflict.


For protection though ease of identification. The Red Cross on a white background was chosen as the symbol. It is the reverse of the Swiss national Flag. In 1876 the Red Crescent was adopted by the Islamic countries.


Nobel Peace Prize:

In 1901 Henry Dunant was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize. The International Committee of the Red Cross has since been awarded the prize a further three times, in 1917 and 1944 for its humanitarian activity in both world wars and in 1963, this time in conjunction with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (formally “league”) to mark the hundredth anniversary of the movement.


Today there are National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in almost 180 countries, almost the whole world. Volunteers and full time employees render their services to those in need through a single set of principles; to volunteer help under the flag of humanity.




1828 Henry Dunant Born 8th May Genev
1859 The Battle of Solferino
1862 Dunant writes “A memory of Solferino”
1863 International Committee of the Red Cross founded
1864 1st Geneva Convention regarding the Treatment of wounded in the field.
1880 Austrian Red Cross Society founded
1901 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Henry Dunant
1906 Revision and amendment of the 1864 Geneva convention.
1907 Adjustment of the principles of the 1906 convention to cover Navel warfare
1910 Henry Dunant dies in Heiden (CH) on lake Constance.
1919 Establishment of the League (now the International Federation) of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
1929 3rd Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners of War
1949 The four Geneva Conventions revised.
1965 Publication of the seven basic principles of the Red Cross at the International Red Cross Conference in Vienna.
1977 Amendment to the Geneva Convention to include two new protocols
1986 Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement revised.

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