The message of hope and peace

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the largest humanitarian network with millions of volunteers worldwide

Tasneem HossainTasneem Hossain
Published : 7 May 2023, 09:58 PM
Updated : 7 May 2023, 09:58 PM

In a world torn with conflicts, wars, famines, pandemics and natural disasters all leading to immense human suffering, a symbol comes as a great relief and solace: the sign of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came into being with one man’s vision and inspiration for a kinder, peaceful world-Henry Dunant.

How many of us know the name of this great human being whose ideas and work led to the humanitarian organisation we see today?

Dunant was a Swiss businessman. In 1859, a battle was raging in the town of Solferino in Northern Italy. There, he came across thousands of Italian, French and Austrian soldiers killing and mutilating each other. On his own initiative, he organised aid work and helped wounded soldiers.

Later he wrote a book, “A Memory of Solferino”, proposing a plan with two main points. First, all countries should form associations to help the sick and wounded on the battlefield, whichever side they belonged to. Second, create national relief societies of volunteers trained in peacetime to provide neutral and impartial help to relieve human suffering.

In response to these ideas, a committee (which later became the International Committee of the Red Cross) was established in Geneva, and the founding charter was drawn up in 1863. The original Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864.

His ideas won gradual acceptance, and the organisation he had created grew.

Unfortunately, financial difficulties led him to poverty and loss of social respect. But towards the end of his life, the Norwegian Nobel Committee rewarded Dunant’s work with the Nobel Peace Prize.

After World War I, the Red Cross was recognised as a major contributor to peace. At the 14th International Conference of the Red Cross, the idea of celebrating the Red Cross Day for monitoring health and peace in the world was first shared. Its principles were then approved, in 1934, at the 15th International Conference in Tokyo. However, the Tokyo proposal was put into effect in 1946 after World War II. The Board of Governors of the ‘League of the Red Cross Societies (LORCS)’ later called the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross Societies and proposed an annual celebration of the day. The birth anniversary of Henry Dunant, May 8, was officially named ‘World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day’ in 1948.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the largest humanitarian network with millions of volunteers worldwide. Its mission is to prevent and mitigate human suffering, uphold human dignity, especially during armed conflicts, and provide first aid and emergency response to natural disasters and other emergencies. The core idea is to promote and initiate all forms of humanitarian activities to generate a peaceful environment.

The movement is composed of three bodies: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) and 192 individual National Societies and united by the central purpose of helping without discrimination those who suffer and thus contribute to peace in the world. Each has its own legal identity and role.

These bodies are guided by seven fundamental principles which sum up the movement’s ethics. These principles are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. Each component of the movement is committed to respecting and upholding them.

ICRC’s headquarter is in Geneva, Switzerland and works globally. It is an impartial, neutral and independent organisation.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest humanitarian network. It supports local Red Cross and Red Crescent action in 192 countries, bringing together almost 14 million volunteers for the good of humanity.

All three movement partners work closely together through daily collaboration and Statutory Meetings.

Every two years, the International Federation, the 192 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC meet in a General Assembly to discuss and adopt strategic issues and approaches regarding global humanitarian problems.

The movement meets with representatives of the states that are party to the Geneva Convention every four years to discuss humanitarian issues worldwide. This body also assembles at other times of need to deal with issues related to the movement. They also have regular meetings with governments at international conferences to discuss humanitarian affairs. Since the movement also works with non-governmental organisations, it has developed a code of conduct for all to ensure high ethical standards in providing assistance.

The two mottoes of the Red Cross and Red Crescent express the ideals of their movement:

1. ‘In war, charity.’

2. ‘Through humanity to peace.’

The Red Cross Emblem is a red cross on a white ground, the inverse of the Swiss flag, recognising the historical connection between Switzerland and the original Geneva Convention of 1864. Henri Dunant designed the logo in 1863, adopted by the Geneva Conventions for medics to wear on the battlefield.

It’s one of the most recognised international symbols of neutrality and impartial assistance to all people in need, regardless of race, religion or citizenship status and protection during armed conflicts and of membership of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. During armed conflict, it’s a symbol of protection that international law gives to the wounded and sick and those caring for them. It conveys to those fighting that they must not attack anyone or anything that displays these emblems.

It exists in more than 192 countries. Use of the Red Cross emblem by anyone else is prohibited and unlawful worldwide.

Though the red cross is meant to symbolise neutrality, some countries feel it might have a religious, political or cultural overtone. The Geneva Conventions have been amended to include the red crescent and the red crystal to resolve this issue.

The Turkish Red Crescent organisation first used the Red Crescent. It’s now used in some Arab World countries that have a predominantly Muslim population.

In Bangladesh also, the name and emblem were changed from Red Cross to Red Crescent on Apr 4, 1988.

The emblem is a universal symbol of hope, protection and humanity and remains as relevant today as ever in saving lives.

Today, May 8, is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day.

On this day, several programs and events are organised to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dunant; highlight the achievements of the Red Cross Movement; pay tributes to the contributions of millions of volunteers, members, and staff of the Red Cross organisation and also those who are suffering and in need. Blood donation camps are set up. Seminars and events are also organised to spread the message of peace worldwide.

Every year the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) announce a new theme for the celebrations. The theme of 2023 is ‘To highlight the universal, human, and diverse aspects of the Red Cross Movement’.

The Red Cross Society's contributions in conflicts and other emergencies have a great positive impact worldwide. Together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross, the Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) serve humanity in times of greatest need.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, IFRC issued advisories and provided support, protective equipment, technical support, and guidance to National Societies engaged in quarantine, screening, pre-hospital, home-based, and hospital care.

In recent times, Global Red Cross teams have continued providing critical service to the people of Ukraine. The Red Cross has collectively reached more than 3.49 million people with life-saving aid within Ukraine, neighbouring countries and other European countries.

On World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, let’s pay our tributes to all those compassionate souls who have pledged their lives to the noble cause of helping the suffering humanity.

May Henry Dunant’s spirit of kindness prevail.

May the flag with the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblem keep flying high throughout the world, spreading the message of hope and peace.

[Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, columnist, op-ed and fiction writer, translator and training consultant. She is the Director of Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.]


1. May 8 - World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS, Mar 7 2023

2. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, IFRC.

3. The Movement, ICRC - International Committee of the Red Cross.

4. “The Red Cross emblem remains as relevant today as ever in saving lives”, British Red Cross.

5. Ukraine Crisis, Australian Red Cross, Jun 23, 2022

6. How Does the Global Red Cross and Red Crescent Humanitarian Network Work?,American Red Cross, Mar 14, 2022.