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History of the ICRC

Since its creation in 1863, the ICRC's sole objective has been to ensure protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and strife. It does so through its direct action around the world, as well as by encouraging the development of international humanitarian law (IHL) and promoting respect for it by governments and all weapon bearers. Its story is about the development of humanitarian action, the Geneva Conventions and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Read full overview

Selected Topics

  • In WWII, as never before, civilians became the target of violence and persecution. History of the ICRC: the Second World War

    The invasion of Poland by German troops on 1 September 1939 is an indication of what is to come. Trench warfare is to be replaced by mechanized warfare, preceded by massive air raids that principally target the civilian population.


  • Indochina War, 1946-1954. ICRC and French Red Cross delegates speak with Vietnamese prisoners as they make their way to work at a «Seminary Camp» in Hanoi. History of the ICRC: since 1945

    At the end of the Second World War, the ICRC finds itself in an ambivalent position. Its humanitarian work during the conflict – in particular in aid of prisoners of war – has been widely commended.


Facts and Figures

Key facts 

  • The man whose vision led to the ICRC's creation, Henry Dunant, became the joint first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
  •  Dunant's plea after the battle of Solferino in 1859 brought about the adoption of the Geneva Convention and the creation of Red Cross / Red Crescent societies.
  •  The ICRC has been active for the victims of most major conflicts since 1863, from classical conflicts to civil wars, guerrilla campaigns to the "War on Terror".
  •  From helping wounded soldiers, the ICRC's mission has grown to cover all aspects of humanitarian work in conflicts.
  •  The ICRC works to reunite families separated by conflict and disaster and establish the fate of those who are missing.

Publications More publications