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
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    "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."

    Given there was an ongoing war against the Nazi's, what more do critics here feel could have been done to comat the concentration camps had the Red Cross spoken out?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 48.

    41samb-1488

    The red cross might provide humanitarian aid, but surely the best kind of aid is teaching people to love Jesus, and that the power of prayer will do far more good than any doctor can hope to do in a lifetime!
    ===
    Have you credible evidence for the effectiveness of prayer?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 47.

    39.ProfPhoenix - "Not interested. Red Cross is too politically aligned.."


    Please explain the "logic" that allows you to make such a claim.......

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 46.

    41 samb

    "Any that spread the word of God are the best"

    That's the last thing we want. Too much blood has been shed over the millenia in the name of various gods, everybody believing their's is the right on and prepared to kill or die for it.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 45.

    "Unforseen circumstance":
    Jan/13 - Red Cross ambulances sent by UAE Govt to assist humanitarian crisis in Lebanon fired upon by ISRAELI WARPLANES.
    UAE Foreign Minister, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: “We condemn this kind of conduct which disregards humanitarian values. It shows Israel’s insensitivity to the acute humanitarian crisis facing Lebanon.”

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 44.

    41.samb-1488 - "The red cross might provide humanitarian aid, but surely the best kind of aid is teaching people to love Jesus,& that the power of prayer will do far more good than any doctor..."

    Yep, keep the doctors, the medicine, the shelter, the food - don't contribute to charity - all 'the needy' need is prayer, & its free!

    Fool.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 43.

    36 fuzzy

    "Many institutions do good most of the time, should we ignore their misdeeds?"

    It's up to governments not institutions like the Red Cross to protest and act against evil regimes. Instead many carry on trading and conducting business with them.

    Where are the protests against the dreadful treatment meted out to the Palestinians and others today?

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 42.

    The simple white armband with a Red Cross on it used by Medical Personnel in the field has saved thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives.
    The Red Cross pioneered it's use.
    One of my Uncles and three of his friends lives were saved by German Soldiers respecting a white table cloth covered in one mans Blood as a flag of truce.
    Incidents like that make war less barbaric and hate filled.

  • rate this
    -44

    Comment number 41.

    there are better charities out there than the red cross.
    Any that spread the word of God are the best.
    The red cross might provide humanitarian aid, but surely the best kind of aid is teaching people to love Jesus, and that the power of prayer will do far more good than any doctor can hope to do in a lifetime!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    The sad thing is that on this major anniversary the world’s largest humanitarian organisation is so completely taken for granted by most people that it has failed to even get a mention in most of the world’s major Sunday newspapers. hug-h.com

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 39.

    Not interested. Red Cross is too politically aligned. I support other charities.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 38.

    There are very few charities where "administration" (in other words mega salaries for top executives) don't take up a large portion of donations. Well done Red Cross, RNLI, and the good old Sally Army. You're always there in times of need.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    In terms of it's work as an organisation and my donations the Red Cross has my full support.

    It's work over the past 150 years has been invaluable to so many - as it continues to be so today.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 36.

    35margaret howard


    To try and blacken their name after 150 years of exemplary conduct in helping where governments fail is both spurious and shameful.
    ===
    But it's not been exemplary conduct, that's the point. Many institutions do good most of the time, should we ignore their misdeeds? That can't be right.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 35.

    8 Honest

    "What reparations, if any, did they make?"

    So you think they should have paid out money from the donations millions of people give them on 'compensation' rather than spend it on relieving hunger and disease in today's troubled war torn regions?

    To try and blacken their name after 150 years of exemplary conduct in helping where governments fail is both spurious and shameful.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 34.

    This organisation is one of the things that makes me proud to be human! Sadly these are far outnumbered by things that make one ashamed...

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 33.

    32ItsOver

    Is the red cross Privatized yet?
    ====
    Not that I know of. But this part of the American Red Cross vision statement:

    "We aspire to turn compassion into action so that...

    ...all members of our armed services and their families find support and comfort whenever needed; and..."

    http://www.redcross.org/about-us/mission

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 32.

    Is the red cross Privatized yet?

  • Comment number 31.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 30.

    @28 Of course the British and US knew what the Nazi's were doing; they were de-coding German police signals in real time. This is why Winston Churchill alluded to war crimes and concomitant trials for those guilty in the House. At the same time ICRC was in receipt of eye-witness refugee evidence but decided not to speak out. Am I alone in thinking this inaction reprehensible?

 

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