26 October 1863: International Red Cross movement was founded

Actor Thomas Jouannet plays Henry Dunant in Red on the Cross (2006), a film about the founding of the organisation.
Actor Thomas Jouannet plays Henry Dunant in Red on the Cross (2006), a film about the founding of the organisation. / SUR
  • The Spanish Cruz Roja now has around 700 local branches and more than 160,000 volunteers

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement began as the result of one man's inspiration for a kinder world.

That man was Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman who was appalled when he witnessed the suffering of those injured in the Battle of Solferino in 1859, and the way many were left to die because no medical care was available for them.

In just one night, 40,000 people were killed or injured. With the assistance of women from local villages, Dunant did what he could to help on humanitarian grounds, without caring what nationality they were, what uniform they wore or for which side they had been fighting.

After that harrowing experience, Dunant came up with the idea of training volunteers to provide neutral and impartial medical help during times of war, and a committee was set up for this purpose in Geneva in 1863; it later became the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Dunant also proposed that countries should adopt an international agreement which would recognise the status of medical assistance and the injured on the battlefield. This proposal was adopted the following year, and was the original of the Geneva Convention.

Spain was one of the 14 countries which participated in the first International Assembly in 1863, and the seventh to adhere to the First Geneva Convention in 1864. Here, the movement is known as Cruz Roja and it is a branch of the same worldwide impartial international humanitarian organisation, now officially called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

During the Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, Cruz Roja provided aid in a number of key areas, including not only medical attention for the wounded on both sides but also by distributing medical supplies and food which had been provided by the Red Cross in other countries, foreign governments and private individuals. Cruz Roja was careful to allocate exactly the same amount to each side in the conflict.

Nowadays, the Cruz Roja movement has about 700 local branches and more than 160,000 volunteers. Like the rest of the Red Cross movement, its responsibilities and fields of activity have increased over the years and include social assistance such as helping the homeless, migrants, young people, victims of domestic violence, the elderly etc. It also provides firstline disaster response services, at home and abroad.

The Red Cross organisation helps those in need no matter where they are, regardless of race or religion. Henry Dunant wanted to see more kindess in the world and to provide assistance in times of war. He would undoubtedly be very proud to see how far his wishes have been expanded and that the organisation is providing help where needed in times of peace as well as war.