Red Cross celebrates 150th anniversary


The work of the ICRC, in some of the most dangerous places in the world

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As it turns 150, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it faces unprecedented challenges in the complex age of modern warfare.

These include "new weapons [and] new types of actors coming into conflict", ICRC chief Peter Maurer said.

The world's oldest aid organisation recently warned it was unable to cope with the "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The movement currently employs 13,000 people working in 92 countries.

It was founded by a Geneva businessman, Henri Dunant, in 1863 in response to the suffering of injured soldiers abandoned on the battlefield of Solferino in northern Italy.

Horrified by what he saw, he documented the slaughter in his book, A Memory of Solferino, and decided to create an organisation dedicated to helping war wounded.

Shifting frontlines

Today, the ICRC, together with the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, has become a worldwide movement with tens of thousands of workers and volunteers.

Red Cross: Key dates

ICRC headquarters in Geneva
  • 7 February 1863: Launch of the International Committee for Relief to Wounded Soldiers, later to become the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • 26-29 October 1863: Creation of National Societies and adoption of the red cross as a protective emblem
  • 22 August 1864: The original Geneva Convention is adopted to protect the sick and wounded in armies in the field. Paves the way for the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
  • 27 July 1929: Red crescent is officially recognised as a protective emblem.

In addition to delivering aid, the organisation also aims to ensure that the rules of war are respected in conflict zones, and has a responsibility for looking after the rights of prisoners of war.

But the organisation now faces challenges not foreseen in the original Geneva conventions, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports.

At Solferino, there was just one civilian casualty, whereas nowadays it is estimated civilians make up more than 90% of war victims.

Warfare in the 21st Century is complex and chaotic, in part because of new weapons such as drones, conflicts - like that in Syria - with multiple armed groups, and shifting frontlines, Mr Maurer told our correspondent.

"We see conflicts when one convoy has to overcome 35 roadblocks before the convoy gets to areas where food and medicine can be distributed," Mr Maurer said.

Last November, the ICRC issued a warning over Syria's escalating humanitarian crisis.

The constantly moving nature of the conflict meant it could not plan, but instead had to seize opportunities for aid delivery on a day-to-day basis, the organisation said.

As a result, relief workers were unable to access certain parts of the country.

Despite its strong reputation, the record of the ICRC is not perfect, our correspondent says.

Its policy of confidentiality led it to keep silent about Nazi concentration camps in WW2, she explains.

Confronted by widespread criticism, the organisation was later forced to issue an apology. It said it had feared that speaking out would jeopardise its access to allied prisoners.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The history of the Red Cross may not be perfect (but which one of us is perfect) but it is a shining example of the good people can do when they put providing a service to those who need it in front of making a fast buck. As we see company after company engufed in unethical behaviour, it is good to see an organisation that is ethical to its core.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    #8 and others. Britain had a pretty good idea about the holocaust too, not least because several Poles escaped from Auschwitz and made it to the UK.

    As with the Red Cross what exactly were we meant to do about it? Bomb the camps? That just does the job for the nazis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Pity they have increasingly become politicised like many left wing organisations such as Amnesty.

    Stick to what you do and don't use your position to lobby and score political points.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    "Despite its strong reputation, the record of the ICRC is not perfect, our correspondent says. "

    The ICRC does excellent work. My only critique would be with how it is run and how they treat their own workers. My boss was one strange puppy who seemed to get a kick out of destroying colleagues' lives. This person was off delegations, but should never have been put in charge of human beings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It is to the shame of Mankind that organisations such as the Red Cross, Red Crescent, et al are needed – but it is to Mankind’s credit that they do exist. May they always be there but never need to be deployed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.


    The sad thing is that human beings are so self-destructive that it requires an organisation like the Red Cross to have to exist at all. One day we`ll learn as a species, but i doubt it.
    We evolved from ape like ancestors. Read Steven Pinker "The Better Angles of Our Nature" to see how bad we used to be. We have contrary to popular opinion, gotten markedly less violent over time.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    @ 13; nobody would suggest that the ICRC were responsible FOR the Holocaust, but as a humanitarian organisation they were aware (as were most governments, including the British, which did speak out when intelligence during the war became overwhelming as to the scale of the horror) and did not use their considerable moral position to speak-out, even if, ultimately, it would have had limited effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I used to work for a local charity supporting vulnerable adults and the Red Cross provided valuable work experience for these people.
    The work they do at home and abroad providing humanitarian aid is just fantastic. Those who ridicule their work may just want to experience front line duties these wonderful people do.

    Happy 150 Anniversary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Glasgow pantomime breaks Geneva Conventions by wearing nurse's outfit, says Red Cross.

    Do they still train Taliban to treat combat wounds?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The sad thing is that human beings are so self-destructive that it requires an organisation like the Red Cross to have to exist at all. One day we`ll learn as a species, but i doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "Red Cross celebrates 150th anniversary"

    What's being celebrated? I assume not the need for it's existence, nor its longevity. "When all the world recognises good as good, this in itself is evil" Tao Teh Ching.

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @12; the evidence is from the ICRC itself, which recognized that its failure to put pressure on the Nazi's (by following the Swiss neutrality line of 'keeping your head down' ) as its greatest mistake in the 150 year history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    One of the few charities where I donate money - about 5% of their donations are used for overheads including staff salaries.

    But I question whether it is right that at least one of their most highly paid executives earns more than David Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The only sad thing thing about the Red Cross is the "requirement" for the Red Crescent.
    If nothing else it proves how difficult thier task is. As a well meaning help all organisation it shows how intransigent the "powerful" are and how low their human being and tolerance values are.
    That to me is sad

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


    And so continues the game of hysterically blaming every person alive for the Holocaust instead of letting said blame lie where it clearly belongs: on a racist and deluded mad-man, who, the evidence clearly demonstrates, would not have changed course even if the Red Cross had condemned him!

    So abandon this silliness and celebrate the Red Cross for the fantastic they continually do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    "No question about it, they had knowledge about the greatest crime of the 20th century (the Holocaust) and remained silent."

    Where is the evidence that they had knowledge of the Holocaust and remained silent.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    One of the things the Human Race did RIGHT. It's a shame it's needed in the first place and not replaced by a decent Local Health Service Planetwide. Sometimes 'All These Representatives' who gaggle in Global Summits need to realise the reality of MOST OF THE WORLD - NOT JUST A FEW. They are at their very core Dishonest.


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