The man whose vision led to the creation of the worldwide Red Cross and Red Crescent movement; he went from riches to rags but became joint recipient of the first Nobel peace prize.
Henry Dunant (1828-1910), was born in Geneva on 8 May 1828, came from a devout and charitable Calvinist family. After incomplete secondary schooling, he was apprenticed to a Geneva bank. In 1853, he travelled to Algeria to take charge of the Swiss colony of Sétif. He started construction of a wheat mill, but could not obtain the land concession that was essential for its operation. After travelling to Tunisia he returned to Geneva, where he decided to approach Napoleon III to obtain the business document he needed. At the time, the Emperor was commanding the Franco-Sardinian tr oops fighting the Austrians in northern Italy, and it was there that Henry Dunant decided to seek him out. This was how he came to be present at the end of the battle of Solferino, in Lombardy.
Returning to Geneva, he wrote A Memory of Solferino , which eventually led to the creation of the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, the future International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Dunant was a member and acted as secretary. He was now famous and was received by heads of State, kings and princes of the European courts. But his financial affairs were floundering and he was declared bankrupt in 1867. Completely ruined, he was in debt for almost a million Swiss francs (1860s value). →Read more
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.
Seven Fundamental Principle