Throughout a considerable part of its history, the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) has customarily refrained from invoking international human
rights law, for reason of this law's alleged politicisation. However, the
changing character of armed conflicts and other situations of violence where the
ICRC is currently operating have prompted it to set a framework for making some
limited use of selected and applicable human rights, for the purpose of
reinforcing the protection and assistance it provides.
This article examines how the ICRC may use human rights in this way during armed
conflicts, through the prism of international humanitarian law, as well as the
conditions for their invocation in accordance with relevant ICRC doctrines.
For several decades, the Red Cross has saved lives and advocated for the overall
improvement of human livelihoods. Since its inception in 1863 as an
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the organization has endeavored
to improve the welfare of individuals from all parts of the world.
To ensure that its services are high in quality, the organization has a range of
related organizations that work independently, and support each other. Among the
related organization is its sister organization, which is the Red Crescent
organization that has high regard for human rights. In effect, the advent of the
Red Crescent has boosted the operations of the Red Cross and incorporated
several aspects that focus on the advancement of human life and rights.
Established in 1919 as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red
Crescent Societies (IFRC), the organization has been very instrumental in
championing the improvement of human rights and the reduction of human
suffering. It is within this context that the essay examines the essence of the
Red Cross and Red Crescent theme in advancing human rights.
Origin of Indian Red Cross Society
During the first world war in 1914, India had no organization for relief
services to the affected soldiers, except a branch of the St. John Ambulance
Association and by a Joint Committee of the British Red Cross. Later, a branch
of the same Committee was started to undertake the much-needed relief services
in collaboration with the St. John Ambulance Association in aid of the soldiers
as well as civilian sufferers of the horrors of that great war.
A bill to constitute the Indian Red Cross Society, Independent of the British
Red Cross, was introduced in the Indian Legislative Council on 3rd March 1920 by
Sir Claude Hill, member of the Viceroy's Executive Council who was also Chairman
of the Joint war Committee in India. The Bill was passed on 17th March 1920 and
became Act XV of 1920 with the assent of the Governor General on the 20th March
On 7th June 192, fifty members were formally nominated to constitute the Indian
Red Cross Society and the first Managing Body was elected from among them with
Sir Malcolm Hailey as Chairman.
Indian Red Cross Society is a member of the International Federation of Red
Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Relations between the IRCS and the India
Delegation of the Federation are strong.
Indian Red Cross Society has partnership with National Red Cross and Red
Crescent Societies, St. John Ambulance, International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),
Multinational firms. Individuals and others in supporting IRCS activities. It
also coordinates with Indian Government and other agencies (UNDP, WHO etc)
Reasons Why a Non-Profit Organization Defends Human Rights
There are various reasons, which explain why a non-profit organization had to
defend human rights. Independence, neutrality, and non-profit nature are among
the reasons that explain why the Red Cross Red Crescent had to defend the issue
of human rights. Since the organization had operations that tried to limit the
scale of suffering amongst individuals in areas experiencing war and disaster,
the incorporation of human rightswould lead to minimal changes in its
The minimal changes transpired because the issue of human rights has a close
relationship with the operations that surround the alleviation of human
suffering. Fernández and Puyana state that the roles played by the Red Cross and
the Red Crescent societies focus on respect for human rights and reduction of
suffering that people experience in the event of calamities or war (17).
Therefore, by being an organization, which helps people during war or disasters,
the organization was in a good position to defend human rights.
Among the reasons that placed the organization in a better position concerning
the issue of human rights is its independent nature. By being independent, the
organization could undertake its initiative of improving human rights and
minimizing human suffering without coercion or interference from governments.
Another reason, which explains why a non-profit organization was in a good
position to defend human rights, is neutrality and the non-profit nature of the
Red Cross Red Crescent. Several profit-making organizations have inclinations
and orientations, which relate to their need to increase their profit margins.
The inclinations or orientations inhibit the neutral requirement that is a
principle in defending human rights.
Therefore, by being neutral and non-profit, the Red Crescent could successfully
achieve its theme of supporting human rights. Fernández and Puyana explain that
the Red Crescent of the Red Cross has increased in popularity and has been
integral in various parts of the world (18). The growing popularity of the
organization relates to the role that it plays in defending human rights.
IFRC Laws and Agreements that Protect People
The laws that the Red Crescent utilizes in the protection of human rights
include neutrality, independence, impartiality, unity, universality, and respect
for humanity. In actual sense, these laws and agreements materialized after a
consensus on the nature of activities undertaken by the Red Cross and the Red
Crescent. The agreements came into existence at the 20th international
conference of the federation in Vienna in October 1965 (American Red Cross 3).
By adopting neutrality as one of its law and universal agreement, the crescent
ensured that the overall principle, which is the protection of individuals, was
practical. The practicability of the overall principle transpires because when
the organization becomes neutral, it can execute its activities and reduce human
suffering without focusing on the religious, racial, or ethnic backgrounds of
The organization would also not take sides during the violence or in the process
of assisting in the protection of victims. Also, to the principle or agreement
of neutrality, the Red Crescent enjoys independence and freedom from government
influence. As such, the Red Crescent protects and alleviates human suffering
with lots of freedom.
Besides neutrality and independence, the organization also adopted impartiality,
unity, universality, and respect for humanity in their set of laws and
agreements geared towards the protection of human rights. Notably, the
organization exercises independence when delivering its services and defending
By being impartial, the organization looks at individuals from an equal
perspective without any kind of discrimination. Furthermore, the law that
concerns unity encourages the organization to undertake its duties and protect
victims without worrying about conflicting organizations that purport to be
members of the Red Cross.
The absence of worry is due to the limitation that the unity agreement applies
as it permits the existence of a single Red Cross organization in a given
nation. In the words of Coupland, Red Cross Red Crescent is an organization that
strives to ensure that people experience minimal suffering in the advent of a
disaster or war (972). Since the main objective of the Red Crescent is the
alleviation of human suffering in disaster or war-stricken areas, it is among
the organizations that are significant in defending human rights.
Development of the Red Cross's Red Crescent Federation
Since the inception of the Red Cross and its role in alleviating human suffering
in places of war, there was an increasing need to expand the operations
undertaken by the organization. Expansion of Red Cross operations would lead to
the incorporation of aspects, which focus on the improvement of human rights.
With the growing need to expand the operations of the Red Cross, leaders and
other stakeholders started championing for a sister organization that would help
the organization in addressing issues such as disasters and calamities.
The need for a sister organization was because at the time the issues were not
part of the operations addressed by the organization. In the assertion of
Fernández and Puyana, Henry Davison, who was the leader of the American Red
Cross, orchestrated the development of IFRC (18).
In the perspective of Davison, there was the need to expand the roles of the Red
Cross beyond its initial scope to include relief, and aid in areas affected by
natural disasters or calamities initiated by human activities. The initiative by
Davison saw the emergence of a league known as League of Red Cross Societies.
Formation of the league materialized in 1919 stemming from the initiatives
advanced by Davison. Coupland elucidates that years after its formation, the
league became popular and by 1960, the league had members in several parts of
the world that exceeded 100 societies (980). In 1983, the league's name changed
to become League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Thereafter, the name changed in 1991 to the present name, the International
Federation of Red Cross, and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It is imperative to
note that during the period when the names changed, the Red Crescent grew in
membership and is currently serving over 190 countries all over the world.
The movement has executed several activities that defend human rights starting
from its inception in 1919 to date. Some of the major operations that the league
has undertaken include helping victims affected by famine in Poland and Russia,
and the Japan 1923 earthquake, which led to the death of over 180,000 people.
Also, the organization is currently playing an instrumental role in helping
victims affected by the ISIL problem in Syria (Sourgens 361).
Remarkably, the development of the Red Crescent, which is a sister organization
to the Red Cross, began in the early 1900s and progressed until 1991 when the
organization adopted its present name and statutes. The Seville Agreement
drafted and effected in 1997 marked one of the major milestones in facilitating
the Red Crescent's objective of defending human rights.
Solutions for IFRC to Assist More Refugees
Some of the solutions that IFRC can utilize to assist more refugees include
public education, use of technology, and collaborating with private and public
organizations in the subject nations. In the advent of war in a nation, the
first victims fall in the hands of individuals, who in some cases may not have
the requisite knowledge on matters that pertain to the handling of refugees. As
such, the refugees either are mishandled or treated unfairly, a factor that
leads to the death or complications among several refugees.
By educating the public on aspects of refugee handling, the Red Crescent can
increase the number of refugees that they assist directly or indirectly.
Coupland states that when IFRC supplies food and shelter to refugees directly,
it is undertaking direct assistance (975). Consequently, indirect aid occasions
when people educated by the Red Crescent exercise the knowledge acquired to
The Red Crescent can also use technology to assist more refugees globally.
Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can be practical in conveying
information on matters relating to refugees and how to handle them. When IFRC
uses technology to convey information regarding refugee assistance, issues that
complicate and increase the suffering of refugees in the hands of inexperienced
individuals diminish. Reduced complications associated with refugee handling
take effect because they receive proper care and attention from knowledgeable
On the other hand, the Red Crescent organization can increase the scale of its
services to refugees by collaborating with public and private enterprises. In
the words of the American Red Cross when the organization increases its
partnership with private and public enterprises, the quality and scale of
refugee assistance augments(4). Therefore, partnership with public and private
enterprises is one of the core solutions that IFRC can utilize as it strives to
minimize refugee suffering and defend their rights.
The role played by IFRC is very important in the context of human rights. Since
its inception in 1919, the organization has worked on a range of initiatives
that focus on defending human rights globally. By helping individuals in areas
affected by famine, war, earthquakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis, the organization
is indeed helping in alleviating the suffering of individuals.
Subsequently, by engaging in these initiatives, the organization aids in
ensuring that people from all nations respect human rights. Therefore, the role
that the Red Crescent plays in defending human rights is one that scholars and
researchers cannot underestimate.