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Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Geneva Convention

The volunteer United States Sanitary Commission served in many respects as a model for the Geneva Convention in October of 1863.

The remarkable efforts by both sides to rescue the wounded in the American Civil War were dramatically mirrored by events that were taking place in Europe.

In 1859, two years before the Civil War began, Jean Henri Dunant, a wealthy businessman, traveled to northern Italy to meet with Emperor Napoleon III. The Emperor was in the area to pursue military action against the Austrians.

Dunant unintentionally became a witness to the horrifyingly bloody battlefield of Solferino. More than 40,000 were killed or wounded in a single day. Just as was true in the Civil War, newly improved weapons had drastically raised the numbers of casualties.

Dunant thereafter dedicated himself to lessening the carnage of war, calling for a meeting in Geneva to start the “Association for the Prevention of Misery on the Battlefield”. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

Henri Dunant was one of the five founders of the International Red Cross and he was the primary force behind the international meeting of diplomats who drew up the Geneva Convention—the agreement among nations on rules covering the care of those wounded in battle and the protection of those who provide that care.

From October 26 through 29, an international conference of delegates from America and several nations of Europe assembled for the purpose of considering “the means of providing for the insufficiency of the sanitary service of armies in the field”.

One of the first items addressed by the International committee was the cooperation of countries in a treaty which would recognize the neutrality of hospitals, of the sick and wounded, and of all persons and effects connected with the relief service.

The Convention of Geneva also agreed upon a sign or badge of a red cross on a white ground, which was to be worn on the arm by all persons acting with or in the service of the committees enrolled in the convention.
The treaty provides for the neutrality of all sanitary supplies, ambulances, surgeons, nurses, attendants, and sick or wounded men, and their safe conduct when they bear the sign of the organization, the Red Cross. The Red Cross, a reversal of the insignia colors of the Swiss flag, was chosen to compliment the Swiss republic, where the first convention was held.

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