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Historical Background of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Henri Dunant (1828-1910)

The Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement


The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever.


It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.


In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.


The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to ac

Voluntary Service

It is a voluntary relief Movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.


There can only be one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.


The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

The Fundamental Principles were adopted by the 20th Conference of the Red Cross held in Vienna in 1965 giving the Movement its charter.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Following the original 'committee of 5' and the birth of the Red Cross in 1863, the Committee subsequently took the title 'International Committee of the Red Cross' (ICRC). The ICRC is a private, independent institution composed of Swiss nationals.

The ICRC is funded through voluntary contributions from:

  1. states party to the Geneva Conventions
  2. from National Societies
  3. from private donors
  4. and through gifts and bequests.

Before 1864 humanitarian problems arising from armed conflict had no legal remedies and war victims suffered accordingly. The founders of the ICRC saw a need for one single body of law to deal with armed conflict. The representatives of 10 governments c

There are 4 Geneva Conventions and two additional Protocols.

In 1977 because of new practices and the evolution of armed conflicts after 1949 two additional treaties were needed to protect victims of war especially civilians. On the 8th of June 1977 a Diplomatic Conference again convened in Geneva adopted two protocols:

(a) International armed conflict: PROTOCOL I

(b) Non-international armed conflict: PROTOCOL II

The work of the ICRC

The ICRC works to protect and assist victims in the following ways:

Its delegates visit persons deprived of liberty (prisoners of war, civilian internees, security detainees) in their places of detention. It investigate the conditions of detention.

Reunites families split up by war.

Brings assistance to victims of war by providing medical care, setting up hospitals and providing material aid as needed such as food, shelter and clothing.

Also the ICRC runs a Central Tracing Agency whose main tasks are to:

  1. trace persons whose families have no news of them or have disappeared
  2. arrange for the exchange of family messages when normal channels of communication have broken down
  3. organise family reunifications and repatriations.

This page was updated: 28 May, 1998

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