First Geneva Convention Signed
The 22nd of August 1864 AD
Henri Dunant founded the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863, driven by the terrible suffering he had witnessed at the Battle of Solferino in 1859, but more positively by the recent humanitarian work of those such as Florence Nightingale . It was evident that a legal framework was required to protect medical and other care staff during and after conflicts, and to determine how they and neutrals such as members of the Red Cross could function.
This committee in 1864 organised a conference whose aim was to make the conduct of war more humane, focussing on the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers.
The product of this conference was the First Geneva Convention, signed on August 22 1864 by plenipotentiaries representing 12 Western European states (four of them German). It was a fairly simple document, establishing the neutrality of hospitals and ambulances and staff manning them; the rights of those persons and of other neutrals and inhabitants of the area who helped in humanitarian work; the duty to care for wounded and sick regardless of allegiance; of repatriation for those incapable of fighting; and the establishment of a distinctive symbol – the red cross on a white background – to be worn by medical staff and used on hospitals and ambulances.
Britain signed the following year; America only in 1882. Millions have benefitted from the convention since its ratification. But there have been many shameful episodes where it has been ignored, one of the most infamous and blatant the Alexandra Hospital massacre during the fall of Singapore in 1942 .
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