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Henry Dunant, who was born in Geneva on 8 May 1828, came from a very devout Calvinist family that practiced charity. After incomplete secondary schooling, he was apprenticed to a Geneva bank.



As a result of the scandal which this bankruptcy caused in Geneva, he resigned from his post as Secretary of the International Committee. On 8 September 1867 the Committee decided to accept his resignation not only as Secretary but also as a member.

Dunant left for Paris, where he was reduced to sleeping on public benches. At the same time, however, the Empress Eugénie summoned him to the Tuileries Palace in order to consult him on extending the Geneva Convention to naval warfare.

In 1853, he traveled to Algeria to take charge of the Swiss colony of Sétif. He started construction of a wheat mill, but could not obtain the land concession that was essential for its operation. After traveling to Tunisia he returned to Geneva, where he decided to approach Napoleon III to obtain the business document he needed. At the time, the Emperor was commanding the Franco-Sardinian troops fighting the Austrians in northern Italy, and it was there that Henry Dunant decided to seek him out. Thus it was that he came to be present at the end of the Battle of Solferino, in Lombardy.

Returning to Geneva, he wrote A Memory of Solferino, which eventually led to the creation of the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, the future International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Dunant was a member and acted as Secretary. He was now famous and was received by heads of State, Kings and Princes of the European courts. But his financial affairs were floundering and he was declared bankrupt in 1867. Completely ruined, he was in debt for almost a million Swiss francs of the time.




Dunant was made an Honorary Member of the National Red Cross Societies of Austria, Holland, Sweden, Prussia and Spain. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he visited and comforted the wounded brought to Paris and introduced the wearing of a badge so that the dead could be identified.

When peace returned, Dunant travelled to London, where he endeavoured to organize a diplomatic conference on the problem of prisoners of war; the Tsar encouraged him but England was hostile to the plan.

An international congress for the "complete and final abolition of the traffic in Negroes and the slave trade" opened in London on 1 February 1875, on Dunant's initiative. There followed years of wandering and utter poverty for Dunant: he travelled on foot in Alsace, Germany and Italy, living on charity and the hospitality of a few friends.

Finally, in 1887, he ended up in the Swiss village of Heiden, overlooking Lake Constance, where he fell ill. He found refuge in the local hospice, and it was there that he was discovered in 1895 by a journalist, Georg Baumberger, who wrote an article about him which, within a few days, was reprinted in the press throughout Europe. Messages of sympathy reached Dunant from all over the world; overnight he was once more famous and honoured.

In 1901, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Henry Dunant died on 30 October 1910.

Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, Universality

Humanity - The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.

Impartiality - It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It strives to relieve the sufferings of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress

Neutrality - In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. 


Independence - The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement. 

Voluntary Service - It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain. 

Unity - There can be only one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory. 

Universality - The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide. 

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Last updated: 08/27/05.