Our international network

From a little history...

In 1859, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant witnessed the horrors of the Battle of Solferino. Moved by the suffering he saw there, he decided to write a book ' Un souvenir de Solférino' and in it he put forward two ideas. On the one hand, there should be a set of rules defining what happens to the sick and wounded during an armed conflict and, on the other hand, he proposed the creation of a neutral relief organization to care for the sick and wounded indiscriminately. This led to the creation of the International Committee for Relief of Wounded Soldiers, which later became the International Red Cross Committee, and the first Geneva Convention, which is the basis of today's international humanitarian law.

... to the Red Cross today.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement today consists of three components:

Our mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in times of armed conflict and emergencies, and to promote volunteerism, solidarity and dissemination of international humanitarian law and its fundamental principles.

The Red Cross is not an NGO (non-governmental organization). Its mandate is defined by the 1949 Geneva International Conventions, which have been universally ratified. In accordance with the Belgian law of 1891, we function as an auxiliary of the government.

Our seven fundamental principles 

Belgian Red Cross-Flanders and all other components of the Movement are held to the seven fundamental principles.  

1. Humanity

We want to prevent and alleviate human suffering. Therefore, we are committed to protecting life, health and dignity of the population. We strive for mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace.

2. Impartiality

The Red Cross helps everyone without distinction. Racial differences, beliefs, social class or nationality play no role. We assume only existing needs. Those in greatest need are given priority.

3. Neutrality

We always adopt a neutral stance, because this is the only way we can gain the trust and respect of everyone. We do not get involved in debates that are political, racial, religious or ideological. In conflicts, we do not take sides.

4. Independence

We assist governments in their relief efforts, but we set our own policies and make our own choices. We also seek financial income ourselves from the people, companies and governments. No outside pressure or influence should determine our operation, so that we can always work according to our Principles.

5. Voluntariness

We help on a volunteer basis. No volunteers work to better themselves financially or socially. All income goes toward relief, training and equipment. We do not pursue financial gain.

6. Unit

In each country there is one Red Cross. In Belgium it is the Belgian Red Cross with its two wings: our French-speaking colleagues and Belgian Red Cross-Flanders. We are open to anyone who wants to participate and respects our Principles

7. Universality

We are a global organization of which all national associations are equal. We have the same duties to help each other and the same rights to count on support from the others.

The emblems we use

Most people are familiar with the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems. These emblems are seen every day by people around the world, mainly in connection with the services offered by the Red Cross. But where do these emblems come from, what purpose and what protection do they have?  

History of emblems

The battle of Solferino in 1859 was followed in 1863 by the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC set up a conference in 1863 with the goal of establishing national relief committees to support the medical services of the armed forces, which would become the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. This conference also launched the idea that medical personnel of the armed forces and volunteer relief committees could wear badges to make their protection visible during hostilities. The proposed badge was a white armband with a red cross, the colors of the Swiss flag in reverse.

In the First Geneva Convention (1864), the proposed red cross on a white background was actually adopted as an emblem by the states. Although the red cross was intended to be a neutral symbol, free from religious, political or cultural connotations, some states wanted to use a different emblem. Therefore, in 1929, an amendment to the First Geneva Convention adopted two additional symbols: the red crescent moon and the red lion and sun, both also on a white background. However, the red lion and sun has not been in use since 1980.

The Third Additional Protocol of 2005 adopted a "red frame in the form of a tilted square on a white field" as an additional emblem, known as the red crystal. It enjoys the same legal status as the other emblems and can be used in the same way and under the same conditions. It provides an alternative for states and national associations that do not wish to use the red cross or the red crescent. 

Purpose of the emblems?

Contrary to popular belief, these emblems are not a sign for first aid or the medical community, nor a common logo regulated by intellectual property law.

First and foremost, the red cross, red crescent and red crystal are internationally recognized symbols of the protection provided by international humanitarian law to the wounded and sick and to those who come to their aid in times of armed conflict, particularly medical services as defined by international humanitarian law (protective use).

The emblems also indicate that a person or object is associated with the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (Movement) (indicative use).

These life-saving symbols must be understood and trusted by all already in peacetime so that they maintain their protective effect in times of conflict. It is therefore crucial that the emblems are always displayed correctly, and used only by those who are legally authorized to do so.

Imitation or misuse of the emblems is nevertheless common. It happens in both peacetime and wartime. Often out of ignorance, but sometimes deliberately.

As a state party to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, the Belgian state is the main actor responsible for respecting these emblems in Belgium. Belgian Red Cross-Flanders as part of the Belgian Red Cross supports the authorities in ensuring respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of the emblems in Belgium. 

International Red Cross Committee (ICRC).

Acting in armed conflicts

The ICRC promotes and monitors respect for international humanitarian law and its implementation in national and international law. In armed conflicts, the ICRC acts as an impartial and neutral intermediary, providing humanitarian protection and assistance to victims. In addition, the ICRC monitors compliance with international humanitarian law. Finally, the ICRC directs and coordinates international relief activities carried out by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in conflict situations. 

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Acting in peacetime, during emergencies 

The IFRC represents all national associations internationally and promotes cooperation and development among them.
The IFRC focuses on two main pillars:  

  • (natural) disasters: both proactively preparing people for natural disasters and addressing the root causes so that the impact of disasters can be reduced or even prevented, and reactively meeting basic needs during disasters.
  • public health: promoting general well-being. This includes promoting positive social, mental and physical health and supporting people's livelihoods. 

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Backbone of the Movement

The National Societies are the backbone of the Movement. Each National Association consists of an unparalleled network of volunteers and staff who provide a wide range of services. Those services vary from country to country. This is because of the different needs of communities and the different relationships that National Societies have with their respective authorities.

Volunteers from national organizations are often the first on the scene when a disaster strikes. And they remain active within affected communities long after everyone else has left. In some cases, National Societies are the only organizations that can operate in countries facing disasters, conflict or a collapse of their social fabric.