The creation of the Red Cross was spurred by the publication of Un Souvenir de Solférino (1862), an account by Jean Henri Dunant of the suffering endured by the wounded at the battle of Solferino in 1859. Dunant, a Swiss citizen, urged the formation of voluntary aid societies for relief of such war victims. He also asked that service to military sick and wounded be neutral.
The Société genovoise d'Utilité publique, a Swiss welfare agency, actively seconded Dunant's suggestion, the result being the formation (1863) of the organization that became known as the Red Cross. The next year, delegates from 16 nations met in Switzerland, and the Geneva Convention of 1864 for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick of Armies in the Field was adopted and signed by 12 of the nations represented. It provided for the neutrality of the medical personnel of armed forces, the humane treatment of the wounded, the neutrality of civilians who voluntarily assisted them, and the use of an international emblem to mark medical personnel and supplies. In honor of Dunant's nationality, a red cross on a white background—the Swiss flag with colors reversed—was chosen as this symbol.
The original Geneva Convention, its subsequent revisions, and allied treaties such as the Hague Convention for naval forces and the Prisoner of War Convention have been signed (although not always ratified) by almost all countries and their dependencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917, 1944, and, with the League of Red Cross Societies, in 1963.
The Red Crescent, which was first used by the Ottoman Empire in 1876, was formally recognized by the League of Red Cross Societies in 1929. Iran used the Red Lion and Sun, formally recognized in 1949, until 1980. The adoption of the Red Crystal symbol in 2005 (effective in 2007), although occurring primarily as a means to provide an emblem under which Israel's Magen David Adom could become a full member (2006) of the international movement, also established a neutral emblem that could be used by any national society that preferred to avoid using the Christian cross or Islamic crescent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.