|Basic Rules of International Humanitarian Law, (ICRC, 26 p.)|
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was created with the aim of helping people in distress on the battlefield.
Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, noted - after the Battle of Solferino in 1859 - that many wounded soldiers had been left to their fate and had died on the battlefield whereas many of them could have been saved, had they been given relief. But there were by no means enough medical personnel available.
Dunant's first solution was that a society be set up in each country which, already in peacetime, would train volunteers who could assist the medical personnel of the armed forces in the event of war.
His suggestion was accepted and, as a result, there are today National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies recognized by the whole Movement in 161 countries, and they have trained millions of volunteers in first aid skills.
Training these volunteers in first aid was, however, not enough. They also needed to gain access to the wounded on the battlefield.
Dunant's second proposal therefore was that States should agree on rules, applicable in all international armed conflict, which would ensure assistance to and protection of wounded soldiers and would protect those persons responsible for their care. The treaty incorporating these rules came into effect in 1864 and was called the First Geneva Convention.
Easy identification of the protected persons was vital, as Henry Dunant had clearly understood, and for this purpose it was agreed that in all armies the same protective sign, the emblem of a red cross on a white ground, should be used. Later in certain countries it was replaced by another symbol, a red crescent on a white ground. These two symbols have the same purpose and the same value. Both signify neutrality and impartiality, principles necessary to gain the trust of all combatants and all victims and thus enable the bearers of either emblem to provide help to all victims at the place where their need arose.
Over the years the First Geneva Convention has been extended to meet the changing needs of modern warfare. Three other Conventions were adopted one after the other and covered other victims than wounded soldiers, such as the shipwrecked, prisoners of war and the civilian population. These four Conventions, revised in 1949 and signed in June 1993 by 180 States, are called the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Additional Protocols were recently adopted to reinforce and complete these four Geneva Conventions by giving enhanced protection to victims of both international and non-international conflicts.
The Conventions and Protocols have become intricate and number some 600 articles, but the underlying principles can be simply stated: "The human dignity of all individuals must be respected at all times. Everything possible must be done, without any kind of discrimination, to reduce the suffering of those who take no direct part in the conflict or who have been put out of action by sickness, wounds or captivity."
These humanitarian ideas are reflected in the seven Principles which guide the activities of the Movement at all times:
Humanity and Impartiality
express the objectives of the Movement.
Neutrality and Independence
ensure access to those in need of help.
Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality
enable the Red Cross/Red Crescent to work effectively all over the world.