The blanket agency for all Red Cross groups, formerly known as the International Red Cross, changed its name in 1986 to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in order to encompass a number of branches in Islamic nations. It sponsors the International Red Cross Conference (instituted 1867), the highest deliberative body of the organization. The conference meets every four years, and its membership consists of representatives from each national society and from several international committees. There are national Red Cross societies in over 180 countries of the world, each a self-governing organization, and two international groups with headquarters in Geneva: the International Committee of the Red Cross (established in 1863), composed of 25 Swiss citizens and serving as a neutral intermediary in time of war, with special interest in the welfare of prisoners of war; and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (founded as the League of Red Cross Societies in 1919), a federation of national societies for mutual help, cooperation, and program development, especially in time of peace. All societies are supported by membership fees and popular subscriptions, and a number receive government subsidies in addition.
The work of the Red Cross has been greatly expanded since the end of World War II, and it has moved into many fields. It has taken on extensive refugee relief activities, helping to care for refugees of warfare, drought, and ethnic conflicts all over the world, including Hungary (1956), Somalia (1992), Rwanda (1994), and the former Yugoslavia (throughout the 1990s). During the Korean War, the International Red Cross suggested (1952) the first exchange of prisoners and sick and wounded combatants. The group also coordinated international relief efforts following natural disasters, such as the massive cyclone and storm surge that hit East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1970 and left almost a half million dead, the hurricane that hit Honduras in 1974, and the earthquakes in Armenia (1988) and Turkey (1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.