- By Dr.Zaw Htun Lin
Each year 8 May is celebrated as the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day in honour of Henry Dunant’s birthday(born 8 May, 1828) as he was a philanthropist who founded the International Committee of the Red Cross and won the First Nobel Peace Prize.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide. Swiss businessman Henry Dunant arrived by chance in a small village of Solferino, Italy during the Battle of Solferino. He wrote about tragic events of the terrible aftermath of the battle, the suffering of the wounded soldiers and the near-total lack of medical attendance and basic care in a book entitled “ A Memory of Solferino 1862”. He was shocked by the tragic events of about 40,000 soldiers on both sides died or were left wounded on the field in a single day of 24 June, 1859. He completely abandoned the original intent of his trip and for several days he devoted himself to helping with treatment and care for the wounded. He took a point in organizing an overwhelming level of relief assistance with local villagers without discrimination. Back in Geneva, he published the book using his own money. He sent copies of the book to leading political and military leaders across Europe and people he thought could help him make a change. In addition to penning of vivid description of his experiences in Solferino, he explicitly advocated the formation of national voluntary relief organizations to help nurse wounded soldiers in the case of war and experience after the Battle of Solferino. One year after the publication of the book in1863, movements for formation of International Committee of the Red Cross started.
The International Red Cross Committee laid down the following basic principles in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 October, 1863:
1. To organize national committees for helping wounded soldiers
2. To protect the wounded soldiers by means of a neutral position
3. To utilize voluntary service of local populace in helping wounded soldiers in the field.
4. To carry out basic principles of the Red Cross, more conventions have to be organized.
5. Red Cross members have to wear white armbands with red cross symbols in order to distinguish them from soldiers on both sides.
A year later, the Swiss government invited the governments of all European countries as well as the United States, Brazil and Mexico to attend official diplomatic conference. Sixteen countries sent a total of 26 delegates to Geneva. On 22 August, 1864, the Conference adopted the First Geneva Convention” for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in the Armies in the Field.” Representatives of 12 States and kingdoms signed the Convention. Ten articles were included in the Convention: basic rights of wartime prisoners; protections for wounded and sick and for civilians in and around a war zone. No discrimination, impartiality and protections are also included so that Red Cross volunteers could help nurse the wounded or sick in the field safely.
Formations of Red Cross societies started country-wise for the first time: Belgium, Denmark, France, Prussia, Spain and Wurttemberg were included; Major Louris Appia from Wurttemberg and Charles Vande Velde from Dutch Army became Red Cross representatives of independence, impartiality and neutrality.
International Conference of National Aid Societies for the Nursing of the War Wounded was held in Geneva in1867. The formations of Red Cross societies in European Countries followed several years later. In 1876, the Committee adopted the name” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is still official designation today. In addition, almost all countries signed the Geneva Convention. The ICRC has become an international humanitarian and voluntary movement which has become known worldwide.
The International Committee of the Red Cross promulgated rules and regulations in 1921; aid to the poor, universality, independence and impartiality were added to the agreement. In 1948, seven basic principles emerged in the names of humanity, impartiality ,neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. These principles were ratified for the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in 20th Conference of the ICRC held in Vienna, Austria.
Myanmar and the Red Cross
As Myanmar people are usually in the habit of giving aids to the poor, making a donation to charity and giving offerings to monks, the basic principles of the ICRC are not strange to them. The Myanmar Red Cross Society was formed in 1920 and has become a member of the ICRC after signing the Geneva Convention.
The Myanmar Red Cross get involved in different types of voluntary services: Alleviation of poverty, the interests of public health, prevention of infectious diseases and people affected by natural disasters; the programs are being carried out to help the people and their cases regardless of race and religion, the rich and poor covering all areas of Regions, rural and urban communities. Red Cross societies are formed extensively not only in universities and colleges but also in wards , villages and towns across the country.
The achievements by the Myanmar Red Cross were clearly seen when Sai Aung Hlaing Myint was awarded the Henry Dunant Medal in 1977. His achievement was an important milestone in the history of the Myanmar Red Cross. Myanmar Red Cross, in close cooperation with International Red Cross and Red Crescent and other red cross societies from around the world, carried out successfully in the rescue and rehabilitation tasks for damages hit by extremely severe storm Nargis in 2008 when nearly one hundred and fifty thousand people were perished in the worst natural disaster in Myanmar. That noble task was also a milestone for the Myanmar Red Cross.
Therefore , on the auspicious day of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent which falls on 8 May each year, humanitarian assistance should be rendered regardless of race, religion, the rich and poor, and disastrous areas far and near by means of active participation under the supervision of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Translated by Arakan Sein