Dunant, Henry

Jean-Henry Dunant was born in Geneva in 1828. He was by profession a Swiss Banker. In 1859 in the course of business he happened to witness the Battle of Solferino during Franco-Prussian War.

The appalling slaughter, the suffering and anguish of the wounded and, maimed and the sorry plight of prisoners moved Dunant deeply. He wrote a book in 1862 titled, "A memory of Solferino". Describing his ideas of a Society of each nation to aid the wounded and in case of conflict of arms, to help the military medical services with their task.

Henry Dunant's visionary idea based on his concept of Brotherhood of Man led to the formation of a committee of five in Geneva in February 1863. This committee which included Dunant, examined his idea and formulated the basis for calling the first international conference of the Red Cross in 1863 in Geneva.

The meeting was attended by reprensentatives from 16 states who agreed that as a first step, private aid Societies linked with one another should be set up in each state.

In August 1864 diplomatic reprensentatives from 17 nations met again in Geneva, this time at the invitation of the Swiss Federal Government, agreed on the first Geneva convention, which 12 of the nations signed outright.

By this famous convention, they were incorporated into international law the principles and precepts underlying Dunant's ideas. The principles were recognised that it is the duty of warring nations to care for the ill and wounded military personnel irrespective of nationality and that these personnel, the ambulances and hospitals in which they lay, and the medical and auxiliary staff tending them should be regarded as neutral under all circumstances and at all times. This has become one of the great and respected principles of modern Humanitarianism.

In recognition of the home land of these humanitarian ideas the new movement took as the emblem of its neutrality the national emblem of Switzerland in reverse a Red Cross on a white background. Today this emblem carries instant recognition all over the world.

Dunant died in 1911 - buried in an ordinary ceremony - seemingly forgotten but the fruit of his labour has neither been in vain nor forgotten.

The Red Cross/Red Crescent is for the people a light in the darkness, we owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneers who lit up this beacon. It is the duty of every Red Cross/Red Crescent member to see that this light does not go out.

Now every year on May 8, the Malaysian Red Crescent Society will join with other national Red Cross Societies throughout the world in commemorating World Red Cross Day. The day that marks the birthday of a man who was most instrumental in founding this international chain of Red Cross Society.