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Known to most people as simply the "Red Cross", the ICRC is the international organisation that co-ordinates efforts between humanitarian red cross groups at national levels (eg the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, French Crux Rouge and so on). To quote from their website:


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. It directs and coordinates the international relief activities conducted by the Movement in situations of conflict. It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles. Established in 1863, the ICRC is at the origin of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The red cross was founded by Henry Dunant, a Swiss citizen who inadvertantly found himself close to the town of Solferino in northern Italy during the War of Italian Unification in 1859. Finding nearly 9,000 wounded after a battle Dunant was shocked that treatment of their wounds and general food distribution and relief efforts were left to volunteers and women from the local villages.

Unable to forget what he had seen, 3 years later he published a work in which he asked why it would not be possible for an international organisation to be created to look after the victims of war. This work, entitled A Memory of Solferino was so influential that it not only led directly to the creation of the Red Cross, but also to the drawing-up of the Geneva Convention.

The symbol of the organisation so formed, represented on flags as a red cross on a white background, was originally nothing more than a reversal of the colours on Dunant's native Swiss flag. Within twenty years, however, the flag of the red cross was recognised internationally as a humanitarian symbol, and today in wartime (and peacetime) hospitals and ambulances carry the flag.

Further information available at http://www.icrc.org

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