Celebrating the ICRC archives: 9 June – International Archives Day

06-06-2014 Feature


A universal heritage

Ever since it was founded in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been aware of the importance of recording its work and policy for posterity. This has given rise to an exceptional, unique archival heritage encompassing both its own history and that of international humanitarian law and humanitarian action in general.

The ICRC has a responsibility to those who benefit from its activities and to those who fund them to ensure that its work is properly documented. To this end, it guarantees the integrity of its archives and manages them in accordance with internationally recognized standards.


Agency archives

Data on individuals that is collected by the ICRC in the course of its humanitarian work in conflict.

>> Archive room : Testimony of a French prisoner of war


Audiovisual archives

Sound recordings, footage, films and photos illustrating and documenting the activities of the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a whole from the latter part of the 19th century to today.

>> Archive room: Audio, film and photos / ICRC audio podcast channels


General paper archives

An essential collection charting the developments in relief and protection work for victims of armed violence and, in parallel, in international humanitarian law.

 >> Public archives inventories


Open to all


Israel, Yom Kippur War (1973). Tracing request, record card and Red Cross message. 

Israel, Yom Kippur War (1973).
Tracing request, record card and Red Cross message.
© ICRC / F. Bory / V-P-ILAA-D-00009-12

 The ICRC archives belong to the international community. As such, they are open to the public and readily accessible.  

In the interests of transparency, the ICRC encourages critical, independent research into its past and is willing to address questions and criticisms about its activities.

In January 1996 the ICRC decided to open its archives to the public in large chronological sections at a time. The next section to be opened, in January 2015, covers the period 1966-1975. This large-scale undertaking has been keeping the ICRC's archivists busy for months. In addition to the files about the running of the ICRC, the operational collections cover: visits of political detainees in South Africa; the Nigeria-Biafra conflict (1967-1970); the conflict surrounding the independence of Bangladesh and involving India and Pakistan (1971-1975); the Vietnam War (1964-1975); the issue of political detainees in Chile and the ICRC's action following the coup of 11 September 1973; the Cyprus conflict (1974 onwards); and the Six-Day War (1967) and Yom Kippur War (1973) in the Middle East.

Viet Nam, Saigon (1975). Evacuation of military personnel with their families. 

Viet Nam, Saigon (1975).
Evacuation of military personnel with their families.
© ICRC / V-P-VN-D-00008-10

In the interests of the victims, the ICRC gives them access to their personal data and offers them a long-term service involving issuing documents to enable the victims of conflict and other armed violence to certify their personal histories.

In the interests of accessibility, the ICRC's archivists are on hand to welcome visitors in Geneva and handle online enquiries submitted through a research portal.

In the interests of showcasing the contents of the archives, the ICRC helps organize and publicize specific events and themes (through exhibitions, symposiums, publications and audiovisual releases).


Challenges ahead

Building up and safeguarding the ICRC's institutional memory in a digital age: The ICRC must adapt its practices to new digital content and to this end is undertaking information management transformation projects.

Providing online access: Major digitization projects have been underway for several years at the ICRC, whether independently or with partners such as the Memoriav Association for audiovisual heritage. The twofold aim of this work is to safeguard its collections and make them available to the public.  


Soon to appear online:

  • 4 August 2014: The archives of the International Prisoners of War Agency, which date from the First World War and were included on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in 2007
  • December 2014: The audiovisual archives through a special online portal