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
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
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
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
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 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.
©REUTERS / PHILIPPE WOJAZER, COURTESY www.alertnet.org
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
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.