The International Committee of the Red Cross is even more important today than when it was founded, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said in a speech given at the University of Geneva on Monday.
“Today’s warfare does not restrict itself to limited terrain where generals line their troops up in battle order,” he said. “War now takes many forms. The fighting extends to public places, to streets; marketplaces become battlefields. Schools, which should be sanctuaries for the innocent, holding out the promise of the future, now find themselves in the front line.”
He highlighted the commitment to humanitarian aid shared by the ICRC and Switzerland, saying that both aim “to protect all victims of armed conflict without distinction, and to do everything in our power to ensure respect for international humanitarian law.”
“Switzerland would like to thank the ICRC on this symbolic occasion for its unflagging commitment and to invite it to continue its efforts, which are nothing less than essential.”
The ICRC is celebrating 150 years of existence in 2013, and Burkhalter’s speech was delivered on the 154th anniversary of the battle of Solferino, the event which inspired Swiss businessman and social activist Henry Dunant to set up the organisation with a group of friends in Geneva in 1863.
In a book called “A Memory of Solferino” Dunant, who was horrified by the condition of soldiers he witnessed at the battle, called for improved care for wounded soldiers in wartime.
His ideas formed the basis for the First Geneva Convention, adopted in 1864.
The ICRC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917, 1944 and 1963 – on the third occasion jointly with the League of Red Cross Societies.