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150 years of National Red Cross and Red Crescent


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150 years of National Red Cross and Red Crescent

In 1863, the same year the Red Cross was created, the first Red Cross Society , the Society for the Relief of the Wounded, was founded in the State of Württemberg. Now, 150 years later, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has 188 National Societies in what solidarity and cooperation have made the largest humanitarian network in the world.

Each has its own legal identity and role, but they are all united by seven Fundamental Principles.

These principles are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. Each component of the Movement is committed to respect and uphold them.

The ICRC’s exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. It directs and coordinates the Movement’s international relief activities during armed conflicts. Established in 1863, it is at the origin of the Movement.

The Federation inspires, facilitates and promotes all humanitarian activities carried out by its member National Societies on behalf of the most vulnerable people. It directs and coordinates its members’ actions to assist the victims of natural and technological disasters, refugees and those affected by health emergencies. It was founded in 1919.

National Societies act as auxiliaries to their national authorities in the humanitarian field. They provide a range of services including disaster relief, and health and social programmes. In wartime they may assist the civilian population and support the medical services of the armed forces.

To participate in the Movement a National Society must first be recognized by the ICRC and then admitted to the International Federation. There are ten conditions for recognition listed in the Statutes of the Movement. They include such requirements as autonomous status recognized under national legislation, the use of a recognized emblem and adherence to the Fundamental Principles. There can only be one society in each country and it must be constituted on the territory of an independent State.

This last condition was waived by a resolution of the 30th International Conference in 2007 in the case of the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

Every two years, the National Societies and their Federation meet in a General Assembly. Immediately afterwards, the ICRC joins them in what is known as the Council of Delegates. This body discusses strategic issues of importance to the Movement.

Every four years, the whole Movement meets with all States that are party to the Geneva Conventions in what is known as the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. This body can also be called at other times to deal with issues faced by the Movement.

A nine-member Standing Commission organizes the conferences. Five of its members are elected during the International Conference. The four ex-officio members, two each from the ICRC and the International Federation, currently include the presidents of both institutions.

The regular meeting of the Movement and governments in international conferences is unique in humanitarian affairs. It reflects the history and origins of the ICRC and Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and the central importance of international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Conventions.

In operations, the Movement has adopted the Seville Agreement to clarify the role and responsibilities of its components in various situations. The lead role concept aims to maximize the Movement’s impact by strengthening coordination and eliminating overlap and duplication of effort.

Since the Movement works with non-governmental organizations in the field, it has also developed a code of conduct to ensure high standards in providing assistance to victims of wars and disasters.

Although the Movement is not itself an organization as such, it does have its own publication, the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine, edited jointly by the ICRC and the International Federation in Geneva.

Here is a series of photos illustrating the cooperation between the ICRC and the National Societies down through their history.

  • 1936-1939

    Spanish Civil War. On the roof of the central Spanish Red Cross hospital in Madrid, protected from the bombings by the red cross emblem, during a visit by ICRC representatives. During the Spanish Civil War the ICRC delivered medical equipment to the Spanish Red Cross, which in turn supported the ICRC in setting up agencies to gather information on prisoners. © RC Spain

  • 1936

    Plane delivered by the ICRC to the Ethiopian Red Cross, for transporting the wounded, and relief supplies. At the outbreak of the war between Italy and Ethiopia (1935-36) the ICRC offered its assistance to the National Societies of both countries. The Italian Red Cross declined the offer, but the newly formed Ethiopian Red Cross asked in particular for medical aircraft and ambulances, and a joint relief operation involving the ICRC, the Ethiopian Red Cross and several other National Societies was set up. © ICRC Library

  • 1949

    {{Mazeike, Greece. The ICRC and the Greek Red Cross launched a joint relief action for Greek children, in which food, clothing and shoes were distributed. © ICRC

  • 1984

    A team from the Honduran Red Cross and the ICRC travelling in a dugout canoe to Silma Lila, a refugee camp for Miskitos. It is transporting a bag of Red Cross messages, bringing the refugees news of their loved ones who stayed behind in Nicaragua. © ICRC / T. Gassmann

  • 1987

    Beirut, the “war of the camps”. After the siege of Shatila refugee camp – which lasted for several months, and during which the wounded were treated by the Palestinian Red Crescent – an evacuation became possible at last. It was organized jointly by the Lebanese Red Cross and the ICRC.
    © ICRC Library / A. Hassan

  • 1989

    Kabul. In the Afghan Red Crescent dispensary – supported by the ICRC – two nurses clean a patient’s wounds, assisted by an interpreter. © CICR / R. Bigler

  • 2002

    Gaza, Rafah camp. Volunteers from the Palestinian Red Crescent and ICRC employees unload relief supplies (blankets, kitchen utensils, hygiene items, etc.) for Palestinians whose houses have been demolished by the Israeli Defence Forces. © CICR / J. Barry

  • 2010

    Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A major relief operation, run jointly by the ICRC, the International Federation and many National Societies, came to the aid of those affected by the January 2010 earthquake. Here a volunteer from the Iranian Red Crescent is treating a wounded patient in the Finnish Red Cross field hospital. © ICRC / M. Kokic

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