The ICRC and the Geneva Convention (1863-1864)


Two years after Henry Dunant's book was published, the creation of the ICRC and the adoption of the first Geneva Convention meant that his vision was becoming reality.

In his book, A Memory of Solferino, Dunant proposed two ideas for alleviating the suffering of wounded soldiers – the creation of relief societies in each country, that would act as auxiliaries to the army medical services, and a legal basis that would oblige armies to care for all wounded, whichever side they were on. Since then, the Red Cross and international humanitarian law have developed in parallel.

The Geneva Public Welfare Society established a committee to consider ways of putting Dunant's ideas into practice. It met for the first time on 17 February 1863, with Dunant as secretary; the other members were General Guillaume-Henri Dufour, the lawyer Gustave Moynier, and Drs Louis Appia and Théodore Maunoir.

In October of that year this committee – later to become the International Committee of the Red Cross – organized a conference, inviting governments, organizations and prominent individuals. This led directly to the creation of the first national relief bodies whose members were to wear an armlet showing a red cross on a white ground.

At the urging of the Geneva committee, the Swiss government hosted an official diplomatic conference in August 1864; this resulted in the adoption of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field .

In a relatively short time both of Dunant's proposals had been acted on. By 1914 the ICRC had gained field experience and the Geneva Convention had been adapted to cover warfare at sea...


The signing of the Geneva Convention of 1864. Painting by Armand Dumaresq.  

The signing of the Geneva Convention of 1864. Painting by Armand Dumaresq.
© ICRC / hist-d-00026