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International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Type Humanitarian organization
Founded 1919
Location Geneva, Switzerland
Leader Don Juan Manuel Suárez Del Toro Rivero, President
Purpose Assist and coordinate between National Societies of the Red Cross Movement

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is a humanitarian institution that is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement along with the ICRC and 186 distinct National Societies. Founded in 1919 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, it coordinates activities between the National Societies in order "to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity"[1]. On an international level, the Federation leads and organizes, in close cooperation with the National Societies, relief assistance missions responding to large-scale emergencies.




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 whose stated goal was "to strengthen and unite, for health activities, already-existing Red Cross Societies and to promote the creation of new Societies"[2]. The original idea was Henry Davison's, then president of the American Red Cross. 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 situations which were not caused by armed conflict (such as man-made or natural disasters). The American Red Cross already had great disaster relief mission experience extending back to its foundation.   The formation of the League, as an additional international Red Cross organization alongside the ICRC, was not without controversy for a number of reasons. The ICRC had, to some extent, valid concerns about a possible rivalry between both organizations. The foundation of the League was seen as an attempt to undermine the leadership position of the ICRC within the movement and to gradually transfer tasks and competencies to a multilateral institution. In addition to that, all founding members of the League were National Societies from countries of the Entente or from associated partners of the Entente. The original statutes of the League from May 1919 contained further regulations which gave the five founding societies a privileged status and, due to the efforts of Henry P. Davison, the right to permanently exclude the National Red Cross Societies from the countries of the Central Powers, namely Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, and in addition to that the National Red Cross Society of Russia. These rules were contrary to the Red Cross principles of universality and equality among all national societies, a situation which furthered the concerns of the ICRC.

Missions begin

The first relief assistance mission organized by the League was an aid mission for the victims of a famine and subsequent typhus epidemic in Poland. Only five years after its foundation, the League had already issued 47 donation appeals for missions in 34 countries, an impressive indication of the need for this type of Red Cross work. The total sum raised by these appeals reached 685 million Swiss Francs, which were used to bring emergency supplies to the victims of famines in Russia, Germany, and Albania; earthquakes in Chile, Persia, Japan, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Turkey; and refugee flows in Greece and Turkey. The first large-scale disaster mission of the League came after the 1923 earthquake in Japan which killed about 200,000 people and left countless more wounded and without shelter. Due to the League's coordination, the Red Cross Society of Japan received goods from its sister societies reaching a total value of about $100 million. Another important new field initiated by the League was the creation of youth Red Cross work within the National Societies.


A joint mission of the ICRC and the League in the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922 marked the first time the Movement was involved in an internal conflict, although still without an explicit mandate from the Geneva Conventions. The League, with support from more than 25 National Societies, organized assistance missions and the distribution of food and other aid goods for civil populations affected by hunger and disease. The ICRC worked with the Russian Red Cross Society and later the Society of the Soviet Union, constantly emphasizing the ICRC's neutrality. 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, defining the respective roles of the ICRC and the League within the Movement.

During the Abyssinian War between Ethiopia and Italy from 1935 to 1936, the League contributed aid supplies worth about 1.7 million Swiss Francs. Because the Italian fascist regime under Mussolini refused any cooperation with the Red Cross, these goods were delivered solely to Ethiopia. During the war, an estimated 29 people lost their lives while being under explicit protection of the Red Cross symbol, most of them due to attacks by the Italian Army. During the Civil War in Spain from 1936 to 1939 the League once again joined forces with the ICRC with the support of 41 National Societies. In 1939 on the brink of the Second World War, the League relocated its headquarters from Paris to Geneva to take advantage of Swiss neutrality.

After World War II

  In 1952, the 1928 statute of the Movement was revised for the first time.

In the 1960s there was a marked increase in the number of recognized national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies due to decolonization. By the end of the 1960's, there were more than 100 societies around the world. On December 10, 1963, the Federation and the ICRC jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize.

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. Three years later, the seven fundamental principles of the Movement as adopted in 1965 were incorporated into its statutes. 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 defines the responsibilities of both organizations within the Movement.

In 2004, the Federation began its largest mission to date after the tsunami disaster in South Asia. More than 40 National Societies have worked with more than 22,000 volunteers to bring relief to the countless victims left without food and shelter and endangered by the risk of epidemics.

Activities and Responsibilities

The Federation coordinates cooperation between National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world and supports the foundation of new National Societies in countries where no official society exists. A National Society is admitted as a member to the Federation only after it is recognized by the ICRC. On the international stage, the Federation organizes and leads relief assistance missions after emergencies like natural disasters, man made disasters, epidemics, mass refugee flows, and other emergencies.

The Federation cooperates with the National Societies of the affected countries - called the Host National Society (HNS) - as well as the National Societies of other countries willing to offer assistance - called Partner National Societies (PNS). Among the 187 National Societies admitted to the General Assembly of the Federation as full members or observers, about 25-30 regularly work as PNS in other countries. The most active are the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross, the German Red Cross, and the Red Cross Societies of Sweden and Norway. Another major mission of the Federation which has gained attention in recent years is its commitment to work towards a codified, worldwide ban on the use of land mines and to bring medical, psychological, and social support for people injured by land mines.

The tasks of the Federation can be summarized as follows:

  • to promote humanitarian principles and values
  • to provide relief assistance in emergency situations of large magnitude
  • to support the National Societies with disaster preparedness through the education of voluntary members and the provision of equipment and relief supplies
  • to support local health care projects
  • to support the national societies with youth-related activities


The Federation has its secretariat in Geneva. It also runs seven permanent zone offices and has delegates in more than 60 delegations around the world. The legal basis for the work of the Federation is its constitution. The executive body of the Federation is its secretariat, led by a Secretary General. The secretariat is structured into three divisions called "Support Services", "Coordination & Programmes" and "Policy & Communications".[3] The highest body of the Federation is the General Assembly which convenes every two years with delegates from all National Societies. Among other tasks, the General Assembly elects the Secretary General. Between the convening of General Assemblies, the Governing Board is the leading body of the Federation. It has the authority to take decisions for the Federation in a number of areas. The Governing Board consists of the president and the vice presidents of the Federation, the chairman of the Finance Commission, and twenty representatives from elected National Societies.

Presidents of the Federation

Since 2001, the president of the Federation has been Don Juan Manuel Suárez Del Toro Rivero of Spain. The Vice presidents are currently René Rhinow (ex officio as president of the Swiss Red Cross) and, representing the four constitutional regions of the Federation, Bengt Westerberg (Sweden), Tadateru Konoe (Japan), Shimelis Adugna (Ethiopia) and Raymond Forde (Barbados).

Former presidents (until 1977 titled "Chairman") have been:

Funding and financial matters

The main parts of the budget of the Federation are funded by contributions from the National Societies and through revenues from investments. The criteria for the statutory contributions of each member society are established by the Finance Commission and approved by the General Assembly. Any additional funding, especially for unforeseen relief assistance missions, is raised by appeals published by the Federation and comes from voluntary donations by National Societies, governments, other organizations, corporations, and individuals.

Emblem, Mottos, and Mission Statement

The emblem of the Federation is the combination of a red cross and a red crescent on a white background, surrounded by a red rectangular frame without any additional text. The red cross, the original symbol of the Movement, is on the left while the red crescent appears to the right. Per Humanitatem ad Pacem is the primary motto of the Federation (Article 1 of the Constitution of the Federation). The mission statement of the International Movement as formulated in the "Strategy 2010" document of the Federation is to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity. From 1999 to 2004, the common slogan for all activities of the International Movement was The Power of Humanity. In December 2003, the 28th International Conference in Geneva adopted the conference motto Protecting Human Dignity as the new slogan for the entire Movement.

Relationships within the Movement

  The Federation has come into conflict with the ICRC at various times, first and foremost when the American Red Cross threatened to supplant the ICRC with its creation of the League as "a real international Red Cross" after the First World War[4]. Several agreements about the respective roles of the organizations helped to smooth relations, beginning with the agreement of 1928, the 1997 Seville Agreement and most recently the Supplementary Measures of 2005. The Seville Agreement gives the Federation the lead in any emergency situation which does not take place as part of an armed conflict (in which case the ICRC takes charge). Organizational discord has now largely subsided [5] Currently, the Secretariat has a Movement Cooperation Unit dedicated to organizing interaction and cooperation with the ICRC.


  1. ^ International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Strategy 2010. October 1999.
  2. ^ IFRC: Who We Are: History.
  3. ^ IFRC: The secretariat structure.
  4. ^ Andre Durand, History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: From Sarajevo to Hiroshima, (Geneva:ICRC, 1984), 147.
  5. ^ David P. Forsythe: The Humanitarians: The International Committee of the Red Cross. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2005. p37. ISBN 0-521-61281-0
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "International_Federation_of_Red_Cross_and_Red_Crescent_Societies". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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