Geneva (ICRC) –The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on 17 February marks its 160th year of work to bring relief to millions of people adversely affected by armed conflict.
Technological advances have changed warfare drastically since 1863. But one thing has remained sadly consistent: the level of suffering that civilians caught in conflict are made to endure. The ICRC’s co-founder, Henri Dunant, wrote this 160 years ago, after witnessing the horrors of combat:
The text reads as though it could have been written today about people suffering from conflict in Ukraine, or Yemen, or Syria. Civilians suffering through the fighting seen in Afghanistan or Somalia in recent years are stunned by the terrors of the conflicts there.
“After 160 years of work the International Committee of the Red Cross can say the world has made real progress to reduce civilian harm on the battlefield. Yet we still see massive suffering in conflicts today, meaning much more work remains to be done to reduce the pain and heartbreak,” said ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric. “Respect for international humanitarian law has been, and will continue to be, the only way to preserve a minimum of humanity during conflict. The laws of war must be elevated to a political priority.”
The ICRC works in 100 countries with a workforce of more than 21,000 people. Over the years ahead, the ICRC, alongside its partners within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, will continue its work to ensure that the neutral, impartial and independent nature of our humanitarian activities is understood by all, even as new weapons and technologies continue to be introduced.
Always on the side of humanity, the ICRC will also continue to advocate and insist for greater respect for international humanitarian law, which prohibits violence directed at people who are not involved in armed conflict.
Note to editors: In his landmark book, “A Memory of Solferino,” Henry Dunant suggested creating relief national societies identified by a common emblem and an international treaty to protect the wounded on the battlefield. On 17 February 1863 this vision became a reality when a group of citizens from Geneva founded the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which later became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross. A little more than a year later on 22 August 1864, twelve States signed a treaty enshrining the obligation to spare and protect wounded soldiers and the people and equipment involved in their care, giving birth to the Geneva Conventions.