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International Red Cross


By: Andrea Booher

Date: September 2, 2005

Source: Booher, Andrea. "Hurricane Katrina Refugees." AP Images, September 2, 2005.

About the Photographer: This photograph was taken by Andrea Booher, a contributor to the Associated Press. Based in New York, the Associated Press (AP) is the world's largest and oldest news organization.


In October 1863, The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was initiated in Geneva, Switzerland. With the aim of providing nonpartisan care to the wounded and sick in times of war, the Movement adopted the Red Cross emblem as a symbol of neutrality. Ever since, the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been universally accepted symbols of relief operations. As of the twenty-first century, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, boasting more than one hundred million members and volunteers, is active in almost every country of the world.

The seven basic tenets that govern the Movement are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. The Movement comprises the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (National Societies) in about 180 countries, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (The International Federation). Each of these organizations is independent with unique status and rights and has no authority over the other.

The ICRC, based in Geneva, Switzerland, was established in 1863. It is an independent organization with a mission to help victims of war and internal violence. It directs and coordinates international relief activities conducted by the Movement in situations of conflict.

Established in 1919, the International Federation acts as an official representative of the Movement's member societies in the international community and coordinates relief operations during natural and man-made disasters. One of the main objectives of the Federation is to promote cooperation between National Societies—which work at national levels to co-ordinate disaster relief, health, and socio-economic programs—and strengthen their disaster-relief capacity.

To plan their humanitarian agenda, representatives from member associations meet at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held every four years. Over the years, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, along with associated organizations, has undertaken numerous disaster-relief operations across the world, including the 2005 disasters caused by hurricane Katrina (in New Orleans) and the Asian tsunami (in southern Asia). Most of these disaster-relief programs are organized by the local National Societies. The American Red Cross (ARC) is a National Society operating in the United States. The American Red Cross, in addition to donations, also receives reimbursement for its programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).



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The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, through its National Societies, has helped millions of disaster victims around the world. These societies assist in various ways, raising funds, acting as government liaisons, providing health and family services, organizing volunteers and temporary shelters, and imparting training for disaster preparedness and management to local authorities. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and hurricane Rita, more than 225,000 volunteers of the American Red Cross assisted in providing food, water, and shelter to the storm survivors—making it one of the biggest disaster relief operations in the history of the United States. Thousands of victims were provided temporary shelter in 1,200 shelters across twenty-seven states. In addition, Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) delivered more than sixty-five million meals to affected communities.

The cost of such massive operations to societies like the ARC, which depends on donations and federal funding, is extensive. Considered the most expensive disaster in the United States, the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, reportedly cost the organization more than $997 million in disaster aid. According to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the key to providing timely relief during such disasters is partnership with local associations and authorities. The American Red Cross, for instance, has numerous partners such as the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), American Hospital Association (AHUA), American School Food Service Association (ASFSA), Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), National Association of Social Workers, U.S. Geological Survey, and others. During the relief operations for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the ARC partnered with several schools, churches, and recreation centers to provide 3.4 million overnight stays between August and December of 2005.

However, both the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the American Red Cross have been embroiled in controversies for several years. Reportedly, allegations exist against the two organizations relating to mismanagement of funds and maltreatment. After the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1989, the Red Cross, news reports stated, used only $10 million of the $50 million raised for disaster relief operations. After the World Trade Center bombings, the ARC, under the Liberty Fund, is said to have collected $564 million in donations. Out of this, only $154 million were reported to have been distributed to the affected families. Following hearings instituted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, American Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy quit the organization.

The policies of ICRC have also been criticized in the United States. In June 2005, Jon Kyl, Chairman of the United States Republican Policy Party, mentioned that the ICRC is "disserving American interests." He accused the international agency of trying to "reinterpret and expand international law so as to afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as military personnel of states party to the Geneva Conventions" and also attempting to "lobby for arms control issues that are not within the organization's mandate, e.g. the reinterpretation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and banning land mines."

Over the years, the functioning of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has drawn flak from legislators, media, and the public. Even so, thousands of relief operations have been undertaken by the movement, with the ARC alone responding to nearly 73,000 domestic disasters each year.



Haug, Hans. Humanity for All: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Bern, Switzerland: Paul Haupt Publishers, 1993.

International Committee of the Red Cross. Handbook of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 1994.

Web sites

American Red Cross. "Challenged by the Storms." <http:// Rep06.asp> (accessed June 11, 2006).

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. <> (accessed June 11, 2006).

The U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee. "Are American Interests Being Disserved by the International Committee of the Red Cross?" June 13, 2005. <http://rpc.> (accessed June 11, 2006).

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Red Cross, international organization concerned with the alleviation of human suffering and the promotion of public health; the world-recognized symbols of mercy and absolute neutrality are the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and the Red Crystal flags and emblems.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

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 American Red Cross

The American Red Cross was organized (1881) by Clara Barton and received its first federal charter in 1900. In 1905, it was brought into closer relationship with the government when a new congressional charter was granted. The charter was revised in 1947. The organization, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., is supported entirely by voluntary contributions. The president of the United States is honorary chairman of the society, responsible for the appointment of its president and seven other members of its board of governors. The American Red Cross puts special emphasis on disaster relief, services to the armed forces and veterans, and public health and safety programs. The nationwide Red Cross blood program is a comprehensive system designed to collect, store, treat, and distribute blood and blood products to the ill and injured throughout the United States (see blood bank).


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.


See F. R. Dulles, The American Red Cross: A History (1950, repr. 1971); R. J. Berens, The Image of Mercy (1967); M. M. Jones, The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal (2012).

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Red Cross International organization that seeks to alleviate human suffering, particularly through disaster relief and aid to war victims. It consists of more than 150 independent national societies in most countries, with central headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It is staffed largely by volunteers. The name comes from its symbol: a red cross on a white background. The International Red Cross received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917 and 1944. The organization is known as the Red Crescent in most Muslim countries.

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Red Cross the International Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, an international humanitarian organization that provides relief to victims of war or natural disaster. The Red Cross was set up in 1864 at the instigation of the Swiss philanthropist Henri Dunant (1828–1910) according to the Geneva Convention, and its headquarters are in Geneva.

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International Red Cross: see Red Cross.