Jean Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Henry Dunant, also known as Henri Dunant, was a Swiss merchant, social activist, and humanitarian (born Jean-Henri Dunant; 8 May 1828 - 30 October 1910). He was the Red Cross' co-founder, advocate, and visionary. He and Frédéric Passy shared the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. The first Swiss Nobel Prize winner was Dunant. Dunant observed the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in contemporary Italy in 1859 while on a business trip. In the book A Memory of Solferino, which served as inspiration for the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863, he chronicled his recollections and encounters. Dunant's concept for a separate institution to care for injured troops served as the foundation for the 1864 Geneva Convention.

The mission of the Red Cross

The goal to provide assistance without bias led to the creation of the Red Cross. The organization operates on the same seven guiding principles anywhere it is present: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntarism, unity, and universality. The Red Cross's goals are to safeguard people's lives and health, prevent and lessen human suffering, and promote respect for everyone. The Red Cross accomplishes this by utilizing the strength of solidarity and compassion. By creating locations where helpless people, volunteers, and benefactors may come together, she embodies our obligation to care for the underprivileged.

The historical origins of the Red Cross

The Swiss citizen Jean Henri Dunant is responsible for the Red Cross's historical beginnings (1828-1910). He saw the aftermath of the fight at Solferino in North Italy in 1859 while on a business trip. Fighting for Italian independence were France, Austria, and Sardinia. About 40.000 dead or injured were still present on the battlefield after the conflict. Dunant labored three days and nights to assist the injured after being horrified by what he saw. He inspired ladies, churchgoers, and other volunteers with his motto Tutti Fratelli! ("We are all brothers").

Dunant made the suggestion to set up permanent national aid groups with volunteers who would take care of the injured during times of war and struggle in his 1862 publication A recollection of Solferino, which was published three years later. His request was quickly granted because the Red Cross international committee convened for the first time in Geneva in February 1863. It included Louis Appia, Guillaume-Henri Dufour, Théodore Maunoir, and Gustave Moynier in addition to Henri Dunant. They chose the Swiss flag's opposite—a red cross on a white background—as their official emblem. The first Geneva Convention, which was signed in 1864, legally established the concepts. Thus, humanitarian war law was founded. Updates to the Geneva Convention (such as its extension to naval warfare) and international humanitarian law, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, came later.

Henry Dunant was awarded the very first Nobel prize for peace

For such efforts, Henry Dunant was awarded the first Nobel peace prize in 1901. Since then, his organization has received three more Nobel Prizes (in 1917, 1944 and 1963). With the founding of the Red Crescent in 1876 and the American Red Cross by Clara Barton in 1881, the Red Cross and its connected Red Crescent movement have expanded to include more than 190 national organizations and about 100 million volunteers and employees since 1863. They are dedicated to aiding those who have been harmed by war and armed conflict as well as educating the public about first aid, serving as first aid responders at large gatherings (sporting events, protests, etc.), and promoting the treatment of people with compassion even in tense social situations when the normal legal system and social security safety nets aren't working as well as they should. Other efforts include visiting political prisoners, helping refugees, re-establishing family relations among refugees, and working to create a sustainable living environment (water supply!) in conflict zones.

Geneva is home to the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose office building also houses the lovely International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and these organizations' archives.


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