The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is a global humanitarian network of more than 90 million people that helps those facing disaster, conflict, health, and social problems. It consists of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The organization is more commonly known as the Red Cross.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) encourages, facilitates, and promotes assistance and other humanitarian activities to those in need without discrimination. The IFRC vision includes the goal of preventing and alleviating human suffering around the world and contributing to the maintenance and promotion of human dignity and peace. The IFRC focuses on disaster preparedness and response and health and community care. Each National Red Cross Society may have a deeper focus on one area than the others, but all of the organizations follow the same seven fundamental principles that were developed in 1965. These principles are:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent neutral organization that bases its purpose on the Geneva Conventions and the fundamental principles and goals of the IFRC. The ICRC is focused on humanitarian protection and assistance for victims affected by war and armed violence. The organization responds to emergencies and promotes the respect of international humanitarian law.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is made up of 190 member organizations represented by almost 150 million members, 17 million volunteers, and supporters. About 50% of Red Cross volunteers are women, and societies represent nearly every country. The American Red Cross alone has more than 1.33 million volunteers and almost 30,000 paid staff. As of 2018, the ICRC had more than 1,400 delegates and specialized staff on field missions around the world. The organization is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and employs 16,000 people in more than 80 countries.
The Red Cross is made up of many organizations throughout the world that follow the same principles and share similar goals. The organization's chapters are both independent and interrelated at the same time.
The ICRC is a private, independent group made up of an assembly of 25 Swiss citizens. Beyond these 25 people, the ICRC has both headquarter staff (around 800 people) located in Geneva and specialized staff that go on field missions around the world (around 1,400 people). The ICRC acts during times of war when a neutral body is necessary. For example, the ICRC may send in someone to supervise repatriation, assist in prisoner of war camps, or supply relief. The ICRC is considered a guardian of the Geneva Conventions and bases its own principles on the Geneva Conventions and the fundamental principles and goals of the IFRC. The ICRC has won three Nobel Peace Prizes. The first in 1917 and the second in 1944 were awarded solely to the ICRC. The third, won in 1963, was awarded to the League of Red Cross Societies (now called the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies).
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was created in 1919 under the name the League of Red Cross Societies. The IFRC was developed in order to coordinate efforts by the various National Red Cross Societies. The organization is a clearinghouse for information, maintains contact between individual societies, assists individual societies in expanding and improving old programs and in setting up new ones, and helps coordinate international disaster relief. The IFRC has its own executive committee and each national society is represented on the board of governors.
As of 2018, there were 190 individual National Red Cross Societies. These societies must be approved by the IFRC and follow the IFRC principals. There may only be one national society per country; however, there may be numerous chapters within one country. For example, as of 2018, the American Red Cross had more than 1,300 chapters, 38 Blood Services regions, 18 Tissue Services centers, and hundreds of additional centers on U.S. military basis around the globe. Each National Red Cross Society must focus on humanitarian aid within its country, and some societies may choose to focus on additional projects. The American Red Cross chooses to separate disaster relief Red Cross chapters and Blood Services chapters. National Societies may also provide humanitarian aid to places of need outside their country.
The International Red Cross Conference is the highest Red Cross legislative body. It is made up of representatives from the National Red Cross Societies, the IFRC, and the governments that have signed the Geneva Conventions. The body meets every four to six years. The 32nd International Conference took place from December 8–10, 2015, in Geneva. The body meets to discuss Red Cross activities and to review any suggested or newly adopted revisions of the Convention. Between meetings, the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross coordinates work between the International Red Cross Conference and the IFRC.
The Red Cross has a long history of humanitarian aid around the world, founded on the words of one individual. Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, wrote the book, A Memory of Solferino (1862), after seeing a battlefield in Solferino, Italy in 1859. During this battle, more than 40,000 troops were killed or wounded and left without any aid. In his book, Dunant described the battle and his concerns about protecting the sick and wounded, including making two proposals for the future. First, Dunant proposed that during peacetime, volunteer groups in every country should be created to take care of the causalities in wartime. Second, he proposed to get countries to agree to protect the wounded on the battlefield and the first aid volunteers who help them. Dunant's book and his proposals led to the founding of the Red Cross.
The committee quickly got to work and held an international conference in October 1863, only months after its foundation. Delegates from 16 nations and 14 philanthropic institutions attended the conference and adopted resolutions, principals, and an international emblem. The conference also discussed the creation of voluntary units to help care for the sick and wounded during war. These voluntary units later became National Red Cross Societies, all working together under the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The group of five committee members from Switzerland later became the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In 1864, the Swiss government held an international diplomatic meeting. This gathering led to the Geneva Convention of 1864, which protected the wartime sick and wounded on land and had provisions that guaranteed neutrality for medical personnel and medical equipment. It also adopted the emblem, which is now known around the world, the red cross on a white field. Dunant's book is also credited for the other international treaties that came out of the Geneva Conventions, such as the protection of the wartime sick and wounded at sea (1906), prisoners of war (1929), and civilians (1949). These treaties served to protect the sick and wounded during war and allowed the ICRC to continue its mission around the world. Henry Dunant won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1901.
Before the IFRC existed, individual National Red Cross Societies were developed. For example, the American Red Cross began in 1881 and was developed for humanitarian aid and emergency services within the United States. In Paris in 1919, the League of Red Cross Societies was born. This organization was developed after World War I when members recognized that individual societies needed to cooperate with each other to be as successful as possible. Henry Davison, president of the American Red Cross War Committee, came up with the idea to create a national federation to allow for better coordination among individual national societies. This organization changed its name to the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1983.
In 1991, the organization went through another name change becoming the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. As of 2018, there were 191 individual National Red Cross Societies that make up the IFRC and 194 countries that had signed the Geneva Convention to protect the wounded and aid workers during times of war, fulfilling the visions of Henry Dunant.
Due to the large number of individual organizations and chapters, it is difficult to estimate exactly how many people are affected by the work of Red Cross Societies each year. In 2010, the IFRC estimated that disaster relief given by volunteers of the Red Cross provided services worth over $6 billion and reached more than 30 million people. For example, Red Cross Societies responded to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when 120 National Red Cross Societies provided aid. This was one out of the over 400 disasters responded to by Red Cross Societies that year.
Worldwide, the Red Cross is overwhelmingly a trusted name. Over the years, however, individual national societies have received criticism and bad publicity regarding employees, donations, and publications. For example, in October 2012, the Australian Red Cross came under fire for an anti-gay Facebook post, which the organization later admitted was a mistake.
The American Red Cross has suffered various problems, from employees stealing donations to not being properly prepared at disasters. In 2012, the organization was fined $9.6 million by the United States Federal Drug Administration for unsafe blood management practices, the second multi-million dollar penalty filed again the American Red Cross since 2010. Even with this negative publicity, the Red Cross remains a trusted and well-watched organization that positively affects millions of people in need each year.
See also Humanitarian aid .
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American Red Cross, 2025 E Street, Washington, DC, 20006, (202) 303 4498, (800) 733 2767, http://www.redcross.org .
International Committee of the Red Cross, 19 Avenue de la Paix, Geneva, Switzerland, 1202, 41 22 734 60 01, Fax: 41 22 733 20 57, email@example.com, http://www.icrc.org .
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, PO Box 372, Geneva, Switzerland, 1211, 41 22 730 42 22, Fax: 41 22 733 03 95, http://www.ifrc.org .
Tish Davidson, AM
Revised by Karl Finley