On this day August 22, 1864

The Red Cross movement led by Henry Dunant officially began when twelve European nations signed the First Geneva Convention, establishing the International Committee of the Red Cross.First Geneva Convention, 1864

On August 22, 1864 several European states congregated in Geneva and signed the First Geneva Convention.

Not only was it the first, it was also the most basic and “derived its obligatory force from the implied consent of the states which accepted and applied them in the conduct of their military operations.”

This first effort provided only for:

  1. the immunity from capture and destruction of all establishments for the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers,
  2. the impartial reception and treatment of all combatants,
  3. the protection of civilians providing aid to the wounded, and
  4. the recognition of the Red Cross symbol as a means of identifying persons and equipment covered by the agreement.

Despite its basic mandates it was successful in effecting significant and rapid reforms.

Due to significant ambiguities in the articles with certain terms and concepts and even more so to the rapidly developing nature of war and military technology the original articles had to be revised and expanded, largely at the Second Geneva Convention in 1906 and Hague Convention of 1899 which extended the articles to maritime warfare.

However, as Jean S. Pictet, Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, noted in 1951, “the law, however, always lags behind charity; it is tardy in conforming with life’s realities and the needs of humankind,” as such it is the duty of the Red Cross “to assist in the widening the scope of law, on the assumption that… law will retain its value,” principally through the revision and expansion of these basic principles of the original Geneva Convention.

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