Thursday, May 1, 2008

Memory of Solferino: A best gift from Henry Dunant to Humanity on this World Red Cross Day

Ever since its inception over a century ago, the Red Cross has been providing protection and assistance to those in distress.

In normal circumstances, in the organized society in which he usually lives, man is protected by laws and finds sustenance close at hand. But there are also situations, such as armed conflicts or natural disasters, when society is thrown out of kilter, laws are violated, man's natural environment is turned into chaos, and his safety, health and very survival are threatened: in times like those the Red Cross strives to help and protect the victims.
The beginnings were modest indeed: a group of five men managed to have a 10-article Convention adopted, the aim of which was to protect war wounded and give them necessary material assistance. One hundred and twenty years later, the Red Cross has grown into a universal movement which comprises besides the International Committee of the Red Cross-186 National Societies with about 250 million members and the Societies' world federation, the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. International humanitarian law has also developed considerably: the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 contain more than 600 articles providing for the protection of persons in various circumstances. Material assistance, i.e. relief supplies distributed by the Red Cross, represents a yearly outlay running into millions of Swiss francs and is channeled to countless persons the world over, easing their suffering in times of war and peace alike.
The Red Cross is impelled and guided by its humanitarian ideals, which find their concrete expression indeeds. The Movement has become world-wide, showing that it is not confined to a particular time, race, religion or culture. Suffering is universal, and the Red Cross strives to give assistance and protection to allthose who suffer, wherever they may be.The whole Movement originated with this slim volume, written by Henry Dunant between 1859 and 1862 following his horrifying experience of the aftermath of Solferino. It inspired the founders of the Red Cross and has continued to inspire successive generations of the Movement's members. May it still arouse the compassion and magnanimity which help us to understand, as the inhabitants of Solferino understood in1859, that even in a world torn by violence, all men are brothers.

This article has been extracted from the Preface of a book called "Memory of Solferino" which has been translated in English by ICRC & it was written by Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.