International Red Cross

The International Red Cross works to alleviate human suffering and promote public health. In 1986, its name was changed to the International Red Cross andRed Crescent Movement. It is one of the largest humanitarian networks in theworld. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the movement has a presence and activities in nearly every country in the world. The Red Cross or Red Crescent flagis known worldwide as a symbol of mercy and neutrality. The International RedCross and Red Crescent Movement is guided by seven fundamental principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality.

The International Red Cross was established in 1863, after a book by Swiss businessman Jean Henry Dunant, A Memory of Solferino, raised awareness about the lack of medical services on the battlefield of Solferino in northern Italy. The book appealed for the establishment of peacetime volunteersocieties with nurses who could care for the wounded in wartime and for those societies to be recognized and protected through an international agreement. Dunant's ideas led to the formation of the International Committee for Relief of the Wounded. This committee convinced the Swiss government to convene adiplomatic conference in Geneva in 1864 to adopt the first international humanitarian law: the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition ofthe Wounded in Armies in the Field. The International Committee for Relief of the Wounded later became the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Today, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is made up of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red CrescentSocieties. The International Committee of the Red Cross, from which the movement began, was established in 1863. It is an independent humanitarian institution which serves as a neutral intermediary in armed conflict or unrest to protect and assist victims. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, established in 1919, promotes the humanitarian activitiesof the National Societies among vulnerable people, coordinating disaster relief and encouraging development support.

As of March 1999, there were 175 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world. After World War II, the movement expanded the scope of its activities, and began working extensively with refugees. In 1949, another diplomatic conference was held and the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which protected civilians in wartime, were adopted. In 1977, two additional protocols were added to the conventions.

The American Red Cross, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was established byClara Barton in 1881 and received its first Federal charter in 1900.The American Red Cross is led by volunteers and guided by its Congressional Charter and the principals of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Its mission is to provide relief to disaster victims and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergency. It focuses on disaster relief,services to the armed forces and veterans, and public health and safety programs. One of its best known programs is the nationwide Red Cross bloodprogram, which collects, stores, treats, and distributes blood and blood products to people who are ill and injured throughout the United States. The President of the United States serves as the honorary chairman.

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