On 24th June, 1859, Henri Dunant found himself in Northern Italy and witnessed the Battle of Solferino. Dunant immediately began organizing local peasants to carry the wounded from the battlefield. They were taken to local churches where local doctors attempted to help relieve their suffering. Over 300,000 men of the Austrian and French armies took part in the Battle of Solferino and resulted in the deaths of over 41,000 men. It is estimated another 40,000 men who took part in the battle later died from wounds, fever and disease.
After the battle, Dunant visited Emperor Napoleon III in France and persuaded him to issue the following orders to his soldiers: "Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured while attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released; those who have been attending to men wounded at the Battle of Solferino and lying in the hospital at Castiglione shall, at their request, be permitted to return to Austria."
Henri Dunant decided to write a book about his experiences in Solferino. He claimed in A Memory of Solferino (1862) that his intention was to promote the "adoption by all civilized nations of an international and sacred principle which would be assured and placed on record by a convention to be concluded between governments. This would serve as a safeguard for all official and unofficial persons engaged in nursing war victims."
In the book Henri Dunant warned: "If the new and frightful weapons of destruction, which are now at the disposal of the nations, seem destined to abridge the duration of future wars, it appears likely, on the other hand, that future battles will only become more and more murderous." He added: "Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?
A Memory of Solferino was well received by Victor Hugo who wrote to Dunant that he was " arming humanity and serving the cause of freedom. I pay the highest tribute to your noble efforts." Saint Marc Girardin added that he hoped the "book will be widely read, especially by those who are in favour of warfare, who seek to show its advantages and who speak of it in glowing terms."
Inspired by the work of Florence Nightingale (Crimean War) and Clara Barton (American Civil War), Dunant wanted to establish an organization concerned with the alleviation of human suffering. In 1862 Dunant sent Gustave Moynier, president of Geneva Society for Public Welfare, a copy of A Memory of Solferino. In the book Dunant stated that his intention was to promote the "adoption by all civilized nations of an international and sacred principle which would be assured and placed on record by a convention to be concluded between governments. This would serve as a safeguard for all official and unofficial persons engaged in nursing war victims."
Gustave Moynier went to see Dunant and invited him to a special meeting on 9th February, 1863, of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. Dunant told the fourteen people who attended that he wanted to form an organization that sent volunteer nurses to the battlefield. He also wanted to improve the methods of transporting the wounded and the care they received in military hospitals.
After the meeting it was decided to form an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. Guillaume Dufour was to be president while Dunant, Thomas Maunoir, Gustave Moynier, and Louis Appia agreed to serve as board members. This eventually became the International Committee of the Red Cross.
At the meeting in Geneva on 26th October, 1863, Guillaume Dufour, in his opening address, he tried to reduce the fears of those governments that had refused to send delegates to the meeting: " Every government must, within the limits of its domestic policy, take such action as it shall deem best, either to facilitate the organization of Volunteer Sanitary Commissions, or to merely tolerate them. On this subject each Government must have perfect liberty of action. There can be no outside dictation or pressure exercised to compel any Government to execute any stipulation covering this ground. At present, there is no question involved as to the formation of Voluntary Relief Associations, nor of any alterations in or interference with the consecrated military code of nations, which would certainly be calculated to create embitterment or distrust. Those who have entertained a contrary impression, are completely in error in regard to our purposes and aims. And if it has been these fears which have prevented several States from sending delegates to our Congress, I cannot help expressing a profound regret."
In 1864 the five men organized an international conference of 13 nations in Geneva to discuss the possibility of making warfare more "humane". At the end of the conference on 22nd August, 1864, the representatives signed the Geneva Convention. The agreement provided for the neutrality of ambulance and military hospitals, the non-belligerent status of persons who aid the wounded, and sick soldiers of any nationality, the return of prisoners to their country if they are incapable of serving, and the adoption of a white flag with a red cross for use on hospitals, ambulances, and evacuation centres whose neutrality would be recognized by this symbol.
The campaign then began to persuade the different countries to ratify the Convention. It was approved by Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Switzerland in 1864. They were followed by Britain (1865), Prussia (1865), Greece (1865), Turkey (1865), Austria (1866), Portugal (1866), Russia (1867), Persia (1874), Serbia (1876), Chile (1879), Argentina (1879) and Peru (1880).
Clara Barton, a nurse in the American Civil War, led the campaign to persuade the United States to sign the Geneva Convention. In 1877 Barton organized the American National Committee, which three years later became the American Red Cross. However, it was not until 1882 that the USA signed the Geneva Convention. It was also agreed to support Barton's efforts to distribute relief during floods, earthquakes, famines, cyclones and other peacetime disasters.
After the USA signed the Geneva Convention others followed including Bulgaria (1884), Japan (1886), Luxemburg (1888), Venezuela (1894), South Africa (1896), Uruguay (1900), Guatemala (1903), Mexico (1905), China (1906), Germany (1906), Brazil (1906), Cuba (1907), Panama (1907) and Paraguay (1907).
The Geneva Convention was amended and extended in 1906. After the First World War it was decided to further amend the convention. In 1929 a total of 47 nations agreed on rules about the treatment and rights of prisoners of war.
During the Second World War several nations failed to abide by the Geneva Convention. At the fourth convention in 1949 (21st April - 12th August) the attending nations agreed to extend and codify existing provisions for four groups of victims - the sick and wounded, shipwrecked sailors, prisoners of war and civilians in territory occupied by an army.
Though the army, in its retreat, picked up all the wounded men it could carry in military wagons and requisitioned carts, how many unfortunate men were left behind, lying helpless on the naked ground in their own blood? How many silent tears were shed that miserable night when all false pride, all human decency even, was forgotten? In some quarters there was no water, and the thirst was so terrible that officers and men alike fell to drinking from muddy pools whose water was foul and filled with curdled blood.
The men's wounds were covered with flies. The tunic, shirt, flesh and blood formed an indescribable mass, alive with vermin. A number of the men shuddered to think they were being devoured by these vermin, which they thought were emerging from their bodies, but which in reality were the result of the fly-infested atmosphere.
Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured while attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released; those who have been attending to men wounded at the Battle of Solferino and lying in the hospital at Castiglione shall, at their request, be permitted to return to Austria.
Every government must, within the limits of its domestic policy, take such action as it shall deem best, either to facilitate the organization of Volunteer Sanitary Commissions, or to merely tolerate them. On this subject each Government must have perfect liberty of action. There can be no outside dictation or pressure exercised to compel any Government to execute any stipulation covering this ground. At present, there is no question involved as to the formation of Voluntary Relief Associations, nor of any alterations in or interference with the consecrated military code of nations, which would certainly be calculated to create embitterment or distrust. Those who have entertained a contrary impression, are completely in error in regard to our purposes and aims. And if it has been these fears which have prevented several States from sending delegates to our Congress, I cannot help expressing a profound regret. They have entirely misunderstood our intentions.
In as much as conflicts of arms are inevitable, so long as human passions and interests continue as they are, it is at least the duty of the intelligent and liberal minds of all nations to unite in endeavoring to migrate, as far as possible, the horrors of such conflicts, and to stimulate philanthropic effort in behalf of their victims. Already a great step has been taken in the right direction. The wounded are no longer maltreated, whatever may be the animosities of the parties engaged. The victor collects the enemy's wounded, and treats them with the same care as his own.
The aids of charity are not wanting, being generously extended both by the regular physicians in charge, and by the noble imitators of Florence Nightingale, a name universally cherished and venerated. But this is not enough. We must advance a step further, and seek to obtain for the wounded the benefits of neutrality, so that we have extended the pitying hand to them in their hour of misfortune, when we have bathed their wounds and relieved their sufferings, we may guarantee their future liberty from all restrictions. On more than one occasion in the past, the neutrality of the ambulance services and of the wounded has been admitted, and commanders of opposing armies have signed cartels or special conventions, guaranteeing these points in particular cases.
(1) In each country signing the concordat, there shall be a national Committee charged with remedying, by every means in its power, the inadequacy of the official sanitary service provided for armies in the field. This Committee shall organize itself in whatever manner seems to it to be most useful and expedient.
(2) An unlimited number of sections may be formed to assist the national Committee. They are necessarily dependent on this Committee, to which belongs the overall direction.
(3) Each national Committee shall be in communication with the government of the country, and shall assure itself that it offers of service will be accepted in case of war.
(4) In peacetime, the Committees and the Sections shall concern themselves with improvements to be introduced into the military sanitary service, with the installation of ambulances and hospitals, with means of transport for the wounded, etc., and will work towards their realization.
(5) The Committees and Sections of the various countries shall meet in international Congresses to communicate with one another about their experience, and to agree on measures to be taken to further the enterprise.
(6) In January of each year, the national Committees shall present a report of their work during the previous year, and may append to it whatever information they wish to bring to the attention of the Committees in other countries. These communications and reports should be addressed to the Geneva Committee, which will undertake to operate this exchange.
(7) In the event of war, the Committees of the belligerent nations shall furnish necessary assistance to their respective armies, and in particular shall undertake to form and organize corps of volunteer nurses. They may solicit the support of Committees belonging to neutral nations.
(8) Volunteer nurses will undertake to serve for a limited time, and not to interfere in any way in the conduct of the war. They will be employed according to their wishes in field service or in hospitals. Of necessity, women will be assigned to the latter.
(9) In all countries, volunteer nurses shall wear an identical and distinctive uniform or badge. Their persons shall be sacred, and military leaders shall owe them protection. When a campaign begins, the soldiers of both armies shall be informed of the existence of this corps, and of its exclusively charitable character.
(10) The corps of volunteer nurses or helpers will march behind the armies, to which they will cause neither difficulty nor expense. They shall have their own means of transport, their own provisions and supplies, of medications and first aid of all kinds. They shall be at the disposal of the chiefs of the army, who will use them only when they feel the need. For the duration of their active service, they shall be placed under the orders of the military authority, and subjected to the same discipline as ordinary military nurses.
Everybody understands that in our era war is not fought to make the enemy suffer, but only to put him beyond being able to inflict damage, and that consequently, the means of relieving suffering must be accorded a large place; but, on the other hand, no matter how much good one would wish to see philanthropy accomplish, the exigencies of politics do not permit us to interfere, for humanitarian reasons, with the success of war, once it has broken out. Let us proclaim loudly our deep regret, our sorrow that we cannot do more; let us protest against the great collective iniquity called war, an iniquity which is only one of the forms of evil in the world; but after the unequivocal protest, taking war for what it is, let us unite our efforts to relieve its distress; let us openly and energetically demand that above the flag of victory shall be flown the white flag and red cross of charity.
To the many who pay their homage to Miss Nightingale, though a very humble person of a small country, Switzerland, I yet want to add my tribute of praise and admiration. As the founder of the Red Cross and the originator of the diplomatic Convention of Geneva, I feel emboldened to pay my homage. To Miss Nightingale I give all the honour of this humane Convention. It was her work in the Crimea that inspired me to go to Italy during the war of 1859, to share the horrors of war, to relieve the helplessness of the unfortunate victims of the great struggle on June 24, to soothe the physical and moral distress, and the anguish of so many poor men, who had come from all parts of France and Austria to fall victims to their duty, far from their native country, and to water the poetic land of Italy with their blood.
I need hardly say that I think its views most absurd - just such as would originate in a little state like Geneva, which never can see war. They tend to remove responsibility from Governments. They are practically impracticable. And voluntary effort is desirable, just in so far as it can be incorporated into the military system.
If the present Regulations are not sufficient to provide for the wounded they should be made so. But it would be an error to revert to a voluntary system, or to weaken the military character of the present system by introducing voluntary effort, unless such effort were to become military in its organization.
It is easy to see that I do not share the hopes that are founded upon the employment of volunteer nurses on the battlefield. The admission of a civil volunteer element would only cause disorders of more than one kind. What happened in America? The sanitary commissions invaded most of the services, they arrogated control to themselves, they made reports, they soon functioned like an independent power; they were better informed than the government itself; newspapers have published their correspondence whether it was true, exaggerated, or false, etc. Only America can permit itself such eccentricities.
If the new and frightful weapons of destruction, which are now at the disposal of the nations, seem destined to abridge the duration of future wars, it appears likely, on the other hand, that future battles will only become more and more murderous.
Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?
Societies of this kind, once formed and their permanent existence assured, would naturally remain inactive in peacetime. But they would always be organized and ready for the possibility of war. They would have not only to secure the goodwill of the authorities of the countries in which they had been formed, but also, in the case of war, to solicit from the rulers of the belligerent states authorization and facilities enabling them to do effective work.
In former days, the general results of war were made public, the knowledge of personal circumstances was exceptional, and limited to a narrow sphere; now the personal are almost as widely known as the general results. No wonder, then, on the one hand, that in the former days the evils of war, being regarded as incapable of mitigation, or being unknown until all power of affording aid was passed, were left to be dealt with entirely by the governing authorities; or, on the other hand, that in our time public sympathy has sought to lessen these evils by committees of relief, by volunteer assistance.
The increasingly rapidity, the very instantaneousness of communications, has favored this awakening, for by this means we live much more in the intimacy of the army than we formerly did. Those who remain at their hearths follow, step by step, so to speak, those who are fighting against the enemy; day by day they receive intelligence of them, and when blood had been flowing, they learn the news almost before it has been stanched, or has had time to become cold.
The underlying principle set forth in the Geneva Convention - the sacred principle of the Red Cross, which had its origin on the battlefield of Solferino and later spread to all corners of the world - is diametrically opposed to the very idea of war. It is quite possible that the work which you have undertaken with a view to alleviating the suffering caused by bloodshed will end, if not by preventing warfare, at least by making it more rare. By dint of continually calling the attention of nations to the deplorable consequences of these terrible calamities, you may perhaps succeed in defeating the ends of those who might be bold enough to assume such awful responsibilities before God and mankind. You (the Geneva Convention) are starting a pacific movement which sooner or later will win the day.
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavor to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.
Article 14: In time of peace, the High Contracting Parties and, after the outbreak of hostilities, the Parties thereto, may establish in their own territory and, if the need arises, in occupied areas, hospital and safety zones and localities so organized as to protect from the effects of war, wounded, sick and aged persons, children under fifteen, expectant mothers and mothers of children under seven.
Upon the outbreak and during the course of hostilities, the Parties concerned may conclude agreements on mutual recognition of the zones and localities they have created. They may for this purpose implement the provisions of the Draft Agreement annexed to the present Convention, with such amendments as they may consider necessary.
The Protecting Powers and the International Committee of the Red Cross are invited to lend their good offices in order to facilitate the institution and recognition of these hospital and safety zones and localities.
Article 15. Any Party to the conflict may, either direct or through a neutral State or some humanitarian organization, propose to the adverse Party to establish, in the regions where fighting is taking place, neutralized zones intended to shelter from the effects of war the following persons, without distinction:
(a) wounded and sick combatants or non-combatants;
(b) civilian persons who take no part in hostilities, and who, while they reside in the zones, perform no work of a military character.
When the Parties concerned have agreed upon the geographical position, administration, food supply and supervision of the proposed neutralized zone, a written agreement shall be concluded and signed by the representatives of the Parties to the conflict. The agreement shall fix the beginning and the duration of the neutralization of the zone.
Article 16. The wounded and sick, as well as the infirm, and expectant mothers, shall be the object of particular protection and respect.
As far as military considerations allow, each Party to the conflict shall facilitate the steps taken to search for the killed and wounded, to assist the shipwrecked and other persons exposed to grave danger, and to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment.
Article 17. The Parties to the conflict shall endeavor to conclude local agreements for the removal from besieged or encircled areas, of wounded, sick, infirm, and aged persons, children and maternity cases, and for the passage of ministers of all religions, medical personnel and medical equipment on their way to such areas.
Article 18. Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.
States which are Parties to a conflict shall provide all civilian hospitals with certificates showing that they are civilian hospitals and that the buildings which they occupy are not used for any purpose which would deprive these hospitals of protection in accordance with Article 19.
Civilian hospitals shall be marked by means of the emblem provided for in Article 38 of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949, but only if so authorized by the State.
The Parties to the conflict shall, in so far as military considerations permit, take the necessary steps to make the distinctive emblems indicating civilian hospitals clearly visible to the enemy land, air and naval forces in order to obviate the possibility of any hostile action.
In view of the dangers to which hospitals may be exposed by being close to military objectives, it is recommended that such hospitals be situated as far as possible from such objectives.
Article 19. The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded.
The fact that sick or wounded members of the armed forces are nursed in these hospitals, or the presence of small arms and ammunition taken from such combatants and not yet been handed to the proper service, shall not be considered to be acts harmful to the enemy.
Article 20. Persons regularly and solely engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals, including the personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases shall be respected and protected.
In occupied territory and in zones of military operations, the above personnel shall be recognizable by means of an identity card certifying their status, bearing the photograph of the holder and embossed with the stamp of the responsible authority, and also by means of a stamped, water-resistant armlet which they shall wear on the left arm while carrying out their duties. This armlet shall be issued by the State and shall bear the emblem provided for in Article 38 of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949.
Other personnel who are engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals shall be entitled to respect and protection and to wear the armlet, as provided in and under the conditions prescribed in this Article, while they are employed on such duties. The identity card shall state the duties on which they are employed.
The management of each hospital shall at all times hold at the disposal of the competent national or occupying authorities an up-to-date list of such personnel.
Article 21. Convoys of vehicles or hospital trains on land or specially provided vessels on sea, conveying wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases, shall be respected and protected in the same manner as the hospitals provided for in Article 18, and shall be marked, with the consent of the State, by the display of the distinctive emblem provided for in Article 38 of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949.
Article 22. Aircraft exclusively employed for the removal of wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases or for the transport of medical personnel and equipment, shall not be attacked, but shall be respected while flying at heights, times and on routes specifically agreed upon between all the Parties to the conflict concerned.
Art. 70. Protected persons shall not be arrested, prosecuted or convicted by the Occupying Power for acts committed or for opinions expressed before the occupation, or during a temporary interruption thereof, with the exception of breaches of the laws and customs of war.
Nationals of the occupying Power who, before the outbreak of hostilities, have sought refuge in the territory of the occupied State, shall not be arrested, prosecuted, convicted or deported from the occupied territory, except for offences committed after the outbreak of hostilities, or for offences under common law committed before the outbreak of hostilities which, according to the law of the occupied State, would have justified extradition in time of peace.
Article 71. No sentence shall be pronounced by the competent courts of the Occupying Power except after a regular trial.
Accused persons who are prosecuted by the Occupying Power shall be promptly informed, in writing, in a language which they understand, of the particulars of the charges preferred against them, and shall be brought to trial as rapidly as possible. The Protecting Power shall be informed of all proceedings instituted by the Occupying Power against protected persons in respect of charges involving the death penalty or imprisonment for two years or more; it shall be enabled, at any time, to obtain information regarding the state of such proceedings. Furthermore, the Protecting Power shall be entitled, on request, to be furnished with all particulars of these and of any other proceedings instituted by the Occupying Power against protected persons.
The notification to the Protecting Power, as provided for in the second paragraph above, shall be sent immediately, and shall in any case reach the Protecting Power three weeks before the date of the first hearing. Unless, at the opening of the trial, evidence is submitted that the provisions of this Article are fully complied with, the trial shall not proceed. The notification shall include the following particulars:
(a) description of the accused;
(b) place of residence or detention;
(c) specification of the charge or charges (with mention of the penal provisions under which it is brought);
(d) designation of the court which will hear the case;
(e) place and date of the first hearing.
Article 72. Accused persons shall have the right to present evidence necessary to their defence and may, in particular, call witnesses. They shall have the right to be assisted by a qualified advocate or counsel of their own choice, who shall be able to visit them freely and shall enjoy the necessary facilities for preparing the defence.
Failing a choice by the accused, the Protecting Power may provide him with an advocate or counsel. When an accused person has to meet a serious charge and the Protecting Power is not functioning, the Occupying Power, subject to the consent of the accused, shall provide an advocate or counsel.
Accused persons shall, unless they freely waive such assistance, be aided by an interpreter, both during preliminary investigation and during the hearing in court. They shall have the right at any time to object to the interpreter and to ask for his replacement.
Article 73. A convicted person shall have the right of appeal provided for by the laws applied by the court. He shall be fully informed of his right to appeal or petition and of the time limit within which he may do so.
The penal procedure provided in the present Section shall apply, as far as it is applicable, to appeals. Where the laws applied by the Court make no provision for appeals, the convicted person shall have the right to petition against the finding and sentence to the competent authority of the Occupying Power.