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150 Years of Humanitarian Action

The Red Cross came into being at the initiative of a man named Henry Dunant, who helped wounded soldiers at the battle of Solferino in 1859 and then lobbied political leaders to take more action to protect war victims. His two main ideas were for a treaty that would oblige armies to care for all wounded soldiers and for the creation of national societies that would help the military medical services. Dunant put down his ideas in a campaigning book, A Souvenir of Solferino, published in 1862. The Public Welfare Committee in his home town of Geneva took them up and formed a working group (the embryo ICRC, with Dunant as secretary), which first met in February 1863. The following October, an international conference was convened, to formalize the concept of national societies. The conference also agreed on a standard emblem to identify medical personnel on the battlefield: a red cross on a white background. (The red crescent emblem was adopted by the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire in the 1870s.) In August 1864, delegates from a dozen countries adopted the first Geneva Convention, which put a legal framework around these decisions and made it compulsory for armies to care for all wounded soldiers, whatever side they were on.   Know more about Henry Dunant and Red Cross.