Up until the middle of the 19th century, there were no organized and well-established army nursing systems for casualties and no safe and protected institutions to accommodate and treat those who were wounded on the battlefield. In June 1859, the Swiss businessman Henry Dunant witnessed the Battle of Solferino. In a single day, about 40,000 soldiers on both sides died or were left wounded on the field. Henry Dunant was shocked by the terrible aftermath of the battle, the suffering of the wounded soldiers, and the near-total lack of medical attendance and basic care.
On February 9, 1863 in Geneva, Henry Dunant founded the "Committee of the Five" as an
investigatory commission of the "Geneva Society for Public Welfare". Eight months later, In October (26–29) 1863, the five men decided to rename the committee to the "International Committee for Relief to the Wounded". Only one year later, the Swiss government organized an official diplomatic conference. On August 22, 1864, the conference adopted the first Geneva Convention. Sixteen countries sent a total of
twenty-six delegates to Geneva. Govern
ments of all European countries, as well as the United States, Brazil, and Mexico, attended the conference. The Red Cross symbol was declared as the protection symbol at the conference.
National societies were founded after the Geneva Convention. In 1867, Henry Dunant declared bankruptcy and later he was removed from the movement. In 1876, the committee adopted the name "International Committee of the Red Cross" (ICRC). During the Russo-Turkish War from 1876 to 1878, the Ottoman Empire used a Red Crescent instead of the Red Cross because its government believed that the cross would alienate its Muslim soldiers. Many Muslim countries started using Red Crescent instead of Red Cross which was considered as a symbol of
In 1919, representatives from the national Red Cross societies of Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the US came together in Paris to found the "League of Red Cross Societies". This move, led by the American Red Cross, expanded the international activities of the Red Cross movement beyond the strict mission of the ICRC to include relief assistance in response to emergency situat
ions which were not caused by war (such as man-made or natural disasters). In 1928, the "International Council" was founded to coordinate cooperation between the ICRC and the League, a task which was later taken over by the "Standing Commission". In the same year, a common statute for the movement was adopted for the first time, defining the respective roles of the ICRC and the League within the movement.
Turkey and Egypt were granted membership while using the Islamic Red Crescent as their emblem. ICRC aggreed to adopt Red Crescent as an additional official protection symbol for non-Christian countries. The Red Crescent was formally recognized in 1929 when the Geneva
Conventions were amended. In 1983, the League was renamed to the "League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies" to reflect the growing number of national societies operating under the Red Crescent symbol. The name of the League was changed again in 1991 to its current official designation the "International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies". In 1997, the ICRC and the Federation signed the Seville Agreement which further defined the responsibilities of both organizations within the movement.
Israel was not happy with both Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols believed to representing Christianity and Islam respectively. It was demanding Red Star of David as the recognized symbol. The Swiss government organized a conference on December 5–6, 2005, to adopt a third additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions introducing the Red Crystal as an additional symbol with equal status to the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Israel was allowed to use Red Star of David inside Red Crystal.
From 1924 to 1980, Iran used a 'Red Lion with Sun' symbol for its national society, based on the flag and emblem of the Qajar Dynasty. The Red Lion with Sun was formally recognized as a protection symbol in 1929, together with the Red Crescent. Despite the country's shift to the Red Crescent in 1980, Iran explicitly maintains the right to use the symbol. Therefore, it is still recognized by the Geneva Convention as a protection symbol with equal status to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies exist in nearly every country in the world. Within their home country, they take on the duties and responsibilities of a national relief society as
defined by International Humanitarian Law. Within the Movement, the I
CRC is responsible for legally recognizing a relief society as an official national Red Cross
or Red Crescent society. The exact rules for recognition are defined in the statutes of the Movement. Article 4 of these statutes contains the "Conditions for recognition of National Societies". The rules makes the usage of official symbols mandatory.
Similar concerns of India, Ceylon and the former Soviet Union regarding the use of Christian and Islamic religious symbols were dismissed by the ICRC. In 1977, India requested Red Swastika or Red Wheel instead of Cross or Crescent. But after some time, India relented and accepted Red Cross as its official symbol in order to gain entry.