March 14, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was established in February 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the five founding members was a Swiss man, Henry Dunant who also authored the book “A Souvenir of Solferino” that calls for better care for injured soldiers in wartime.
By the end of its first year, the organisation was able to get governments together to agree to establish national societies that would help improve and provide medical services to military men and women. By its second year in August 1864, the ICRC convinced governments to adopt the first Geneva Convention. A neutral emblem for the medical service was created which had the familiar red cross painted on a white background.
In 1914, the First World War began which lasted till 1918. The ICRC established a Prisoners of War Agency in Geneva aimed at helping captured soldiers restore links with their families. The organization continued to change as it eventually intervened over the use of weapons that caused extreme suffering. In 1918, the ICRC called for the ban of the use of mustard gas.
For the first time in 1918, the organization visited prisoners of war in Hungry. National societies allowed volunteers to run ambulance to pick up wounded soldier in the battlefield and care for them in hospitals. This was a milestone and a proud moment for the Red Cross.
After the war, when peace was reinstated, many thought that the role of the Red Cross would eventually have to change. In 1919, the League of Red Cross Societies was established as a future body and movement to support the ICRC.
Conflicts that erupted between 1920 and 1930 in the Far East, Spain, South America and Ethiopia proved that neutral intervention of the ICRC was still necessary. The ICRC helped governments adopt the second and revised Geneva Convention in 1929 which provided better protection to prisoners of war.
The ICRC expanded during the Second World War in its effort to protect soldiers and now, even civilians on all sides. The organization was shipping relief goods and medical supplies across the globe. The Red Cross became the bridge between imprisoned soldiers and their families as they delivered messages both ways.
This period also marked a failure on the part of the ICRC to protect persecuted Jew and civilians during the Holocaust. The lack of legal basis prevented the Red Cross to intervene or act on the persecuted groups of Jews during WWII.
Since 1945 the Red Cross has continued to encourage governments to improve humanitarian laws and to actually implement and follow the rules. The Geneva Convention has been revised once more to include protection to victims of war, soldiers, the wounded and sick in the battlefield, prisoners of war and to protect civilians caught in the middle of conflicts.