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90 years of action

On 4 May, the International Federation celebrated the 90th anniversary of the founding of the League of Red Cross Societies (its predecessor) in Paris in 1919. To mark the  occasion, the International Federation’sGoverning Board adopted the Declaration of Paris ‘Together for Humanity: 90 years and beyond’. It contains a reminder of the auxiliary role that National Societies play alongside governments in the provision of humanitarian aid to all people in need on their territories.

The declaration urges states to expand the humanitarian space and provide resources for Red Cross Red Crescent operations. It advocates prevention as a priority; emergency response alone is not enough. The document asks countries to consider the most vulnerable people during the current economic crisis. They are encouraged to coordinate with their National Societies and avoid cutting humanitarian aid budgets.

In his welcoming address at a diplomatic reception in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, “You are right to remind the national authorities of every country that their primary duty is to protect their citizens and to tend to the most vulnerable. You are right to ask us to do more to cope with humanitarian tragedies.”

The declaration refers to the wide range of Red Cross Red Crescent activities, draws a link between the past, present and future, states the International Federation’s position on emergencies and makes an appeal to states and civil society — all on one page, making it a condensed yet powerful tool for humanitarian diplomacy.

As President Sarkozy pointed out, relations between governments and National Societies should be “relations of complementarity, not submission”. This formula may guide National Societies that are building or rebuilding their dialogue with public authorities.

The League was founded in the aftermath of the First World War, when there was a need for close cooperation between Red Cross Societies, which, through their humanitarian activities on behalf of prisoners of war, combatants and civilians, had attracted millions of volunteers and built a large body of expertise. A devastated Europe could not afford to lose such a resource.

It was Henry Davison, president of the American Red Cross war committee, who proposed forming a federation of these National Societies. An international conference resulted in the birth of the League of Red Cross Societies, which was renamed the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1983, and then the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1991.

Its first objective was to improve people’s health after the First World War and to promote the creation of new National Societies. The five founding member societies were those of Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. Today there are 186 recognized National Societies — one in almost every country in the world. Its first mission was to assist typhus and famine victims in Poland; today it runs more than 80 relief operations a year.

Yulia Gusynina
Yulia Gusynina is co-chair of the Paris Event Task Force for the International Federation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy receives a copy of the Declaration of Paris from International Federation President Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro at a ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of the International Federation.

How well do you
know the Movement?

1. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is made up of tens of millions of volunteers, supporters and staff in 186 countries. What are the Movement’s three components?

2. Why do we celebrate World Red Cross Red Crescent Day on 8 May?

3. What are the seven Fundamental Principles of the Movement?

4. On 17 February 1863, a committee of five members met in Geneva to set up what would become the Movement. What was its name?

5. National Societies can choose to use the emblem of the red crescent, red cross or red crystal. Of the current 186 members, how many use the red crescent?

6. What three anniversaries is the Movement marking in 2009?

7. What is the name of the global campaign launched this year by the Movement?

8. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva houses the longest telegram in the world. It measures 72 metres. What does it say?

9. Since 1994, the International Federation has had a special status with the United Nations General Assembly. What is it?

10. Under what circumstances does the Movement take part in conflict?

Click here for the answers.


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