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This Day in International Law: February 17

Updated: Jun 13, 2019

By Arjun Ghosh

On February 17, 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in Geneva by Swiss businessman Henry Durant, after he witnessed wounded soldiers left without medical care after the Battle of Solferino, an engagement in the Franco-Austrian War. The organization was founded as the “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded” and aimed to improve battlefield medical services and develop international humanitarian law.

One year later, the organization hosted delegates from 18 countries. The group eventually agreed on a proposal by the ICRC to develop national relief societies like The American Red Cross. The ICRC continues to work with these national Red Cross societies to provide supplemental medical aid to soldiers during conflicts.

Later that year, the ICRC persuaded governments to adopt the first Geneva Convention, which obliged armies to care for wounded soldiers, whatever side they were on, and introduced a unified emblem for the medical services, a red cross on a white background.

In 1949 the ICRC prompted states to revise the existing Geneva Conventions, which included a legal mandate for the ICRC to provide neutral medical support to soldiers during conflicts. The Conventions also prescribed that the ICRC emblem (a red cross on white background, the inverse of a Swiss flag) proves protection for military medical services and relief workers in armed conflicts and is to be placed on humanitarian and medical vehicles and buildings.



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