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 69.

    You only have to look at the current conflict in Syria to see the challenges the Red Cross faces. In a highly polarised conflict where people have strongly held views in support of one side or another, it's inevitable that people will lose respect for an organisation that insists on remaining impartial. Especially if they see them as providing support for the enemy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    20 asked if the Red Cross was still teaching the Taliban first aid. I hope so! It is acts like that that allows the RC to be able to handle prisoner exchanges for example and to teach how prisoners are to be treated under international law. The RC believes in the Geneva Conventions and their application to ALL people. What is meant by politicization-please explain-the RC stays out of politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    ...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!
    I know the NHS is in a bad state but, with over full hospitals and space available in churches due to falling attendance, even our Government wouldn't take this as a serious alternative!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    41. samb-1488
    >> 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!

    You, my friend, read like someone who has been brainwashed: Seriously, you do.

    Well done Red Cross, you're a prime example of the good things that happen when humans subordinate tribe/state and religion to humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    You need a reality check, a checkup from the neckup.
    The red cross does a magnificent job in the circumstances with many wonderful people giving their time, & lives for others.

    Your comment is evidential of the attrocious ignorance & biased stupidity of religions, but well done for adding another deserving nail in religions coffin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    It is sad that we still need the Red Cross... but fantastic that they are still there, refusing to ignore any crisis big or small - be it saving lives from hoodlums in Syria or loaning me a wheelchair for a couple of months after I had a stroke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    58. fuzzy
    "Tao Teh Ching."
    I've seen three other spellings
    Tao Te Ching
    Dao De Jing
    But not seen 德 dé "virtue" as Teh before.
    Was your spelling a phonetic rendition or is it a more modern form?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    This story ignores the main challenge for the ICRC -

    The utter disregard for the ICRC itself, and the willful killings of civilians (including ICRC staff) from militias, Islamic militants and armed gangs in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I am thankful that I have never needed the Red Cross, unlike my father, Grandfather and wifes Grandfather. The Red Cross was there for them, and can be seen 'there' for millions still, in war and Famine. I only wish they could attain a redundant state, but Politicians and Religious leaders will ensure another 150 years of need.

  • Comment number 60.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    You've got to admire the dedication that people on the ground contribute. However, every silver cloud has a black lining in the form of the Old Boy's network at the top of the tree, setting up commitees, creaming the expenses and generally whooping it up. This is, unfortunately the case in a lot of charities and has the efffect of putting people off donating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    57Joe Yellow

    I'm not sure why this story has been given a comments section, when its pretty obvious that being a charity, the comments are going to be 'well done'.
    No necessarily. Some choose to think for themselves. You can too.

    "When all the world recognises good as good, this in itself is evil" , Tao Teh Ching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I'm not sure why this story has been given a comments section, when its pretty obvious that being a charity, the comments are going to be 'well done'.

    So, well done Red Cross :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Re my comment @49.

    -1 is not much of an answer, people are critical of the ICRC for knowing about the concentration camps and not speaking out, but what more could speaking out have achieved? Britain, the US and the USSR etc. were already at war with the Nazi's, stern words and a frown from the RC visitor would hardly have made a difference, and could have lost access to POWs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Founded on Faith, Hope and Charity.
    God bless the Red Cross and long may it continue to assist our fellow humans in time of need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Please give generously. Your £10 could provide 0.008% of the managing dierectors salary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Well done ladies and gentlemen. Keep up the good work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    41-samb 1488

    If I was hemorrhaging from a wound or suffering a heart attack I know I'd much prefer a doctor than a prayer. Faith has its place, but your comment is just foolish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I stayed with a family in California some years ago and was taken aback to hear them say the red cross,after helping with the aftermath of a local disaster,then sent the local township a bill for their costs.
    The family I stayed with didn't have any axe to grind-they say the demandfor money just gabsmacked them.
    Any other similar events?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Red Cross as witness - who cares?
    CIA interrogation approved by President Bush was described in Red Cross report as “tantamount to torture”. Red Cross interviewed 15 detainees after transfer to GUANTANAMO, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
    Red Cross declared American officials committed crimes”, including breaches” of Geneva Conventions + violation of US Torture Act of 1994.
    So what?


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