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Reflections on the development of the Movement and international humanitarian law through the lens of the ICRC Library's Heritage Collection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2019


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Library was first created at the initiative of the ICRC's co-founder and president, Gustave Moynier. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become a specialized documentation centre with comprehensive collections on the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, international humanitarian law (IHL) and relief to war victims, keeping track of the latest legal debates and technological innovations in the fields related to the ICRC's activities. The publications collected by the Library until the end of the First World War form a rich collection of almost 4,000 documents now known as the ancien fonds, the Library's Heritage Collection.

Direct witness to the birth of an international humanitarian movement and of IHL, the Heritage Collection contains the era's most important publications related to the development of humanitarian action for war victims, from the first edition of Henry Dunant's groundbreaking Un souvenir de Solférino to the first mission reports of ICRC delegates and the handwritten minutes of the Diplomatic Conference that led to the adoption of the 1864 Geneva Convention. This article looks at the way this unique collection of documents retraces the history of the ICRC during its first decades of existence and documents its original preoccupations and operations, highlighting the most noteworthy items of the Collection along the way.

Copyright © icrc 2019 

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The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the International Committee of the Red Cross.


1 In addition to the Heritage Collection, the ICRC Library includes collections on the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (National Societies), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), State Practice, International Conferences and Diplomatic Conferences, together with a current collection to which is added every new French and English-language document on the ICRC and/or international humanitarian law. The Library is also the official repository of the ICRC's own publications. For further information about the Library and to consult the catalogue, see: (all internet references were accessed in May 2019).

2 To make it easier for readers to find publications mentioned in this article, call numbers are provided in the footnotes. The call numbers for all items in the Heritage Collection begin with “AF”, which stands for “ancien fonds”. Internet links to some items are included in the footnotes. In cases where no link is provided, please contact the Library () if you wish to consult the referenced documents.

3 Moynier, Gustave, “La bibliothèque du Comité international”, Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, Vol. 9, No. 35, 1878, p. 199Google Scholar (quote translated from French).

4 The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the world's largest humanitarian network, has three main components: the ICRC, the IFRC, and the 191 National Societies that are currently members of the IFRC.

5 Published between 1869 and 1918, the Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge was distributed to the Movement's different members as its official journal. It is the ancestor of the International Review of the Red Cross as we know it today.

6 Works devoted to Gustave Moynier include the following: Senarclens, Jean de, The Founding of the Red Cross: Gustave Moynier Its Master Builder, Slatkine, Geneva, 2005Google Scholar; Bugnion, François, Gustave Moynier: 1826–1910, Slatkine and Henry Dunant Society, Geneva, 2012Google Scholar; Ryfman, Philippe, “Gustave Moynier, pionnier méconnu de l'action humanitaire et du droit international humanitaires”, Questions Internationales, No. 36, March–April 2009Google Scholar. Moynier's obituary, which was written by the ICRC and appeared in the October 1910 edition of the Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, can be found in the Heritage Collection of the ICRC Library (AF 2851).

7 Dunant, Henry, Un souvenir de Solférino, Imprimerie J. G. Fick, Geneva, 1862 (AF 3051)Google Scholar. English translation: A Memory of Solferino, American National Red Cross, Washington, DC, 1939.

8 Bugnion, François, “Birth of an Idea: The Founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: From Solferino to the Original Geneva Convention (1859–1864)”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 94, No. 888, 2012CrossRefGoogle Scholar, available at:

9 de Senarclens, Jean, La Société genevoise d'utilité publique: Creuset des réformes sociales à Genève aux XIXe et XXe siècles, Slatkine, Geneva, 2003Google Scholar.

10 In 1873, Moynier recounted the history of the founding of the Committee to a meeting of the Société Genevoise d'Utilité Publique. The text of this account is in the Heritage Collection: Moynier, Gustave, “Les dix premières années de la Croix-Rouge”, Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, Vol. 4, No. 16, 1873 (AF 2815)Google Scholar, available at: See also the first volume of a five-volume series on the history of the ICRC: Boissier, Pierre, History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: From Solferino to Tsushima, Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva, 1985Google Scholar, available at:

11 Quote translated from French (“Le sentiment appelle la science à son secours”). Moynier, Gustave and Appia, Louis, La guerre et la charité: Traité théorique et pratique de philanthropie appliquée aux armées en campagne, Librairie Cherbuliez, Geneva and Paris, 1867 (AF 3062), p. 139Google Scholar, available at:

12 In December 1860, for instance, he presented a study on how to assist abandoned or orphaned children to the Société Genevoise d'Utilité Publique. In 1866, at the request of the Swiss government, he wrote a paper in anticipation of the International Exposition in Paris: Moynier, Gustave, Les institutions ouvrières de la Suisse, Librairie Cherbuliez, Geneva and Paris, 1867Google Scholar.

13 J. de Senarclens, above note 6, p. 109.

14 The Committee – and its Library – moved at the end of the First World War from 3 Rue de l'Athénée, where its office had been established in 1871, to the Promenade du Pin. In the summer of 1933, it moved to what is now the Villa Moynier, by the Geneva Lake. At that time, the Review published an article describing the Committee's past and new offices: Clouzot, Étienne, “Anciens et nouveau sièges du Comité international de le Croix-Rouge”, Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, Vol. 15, No. 176, 1933Google Scholar. Today, the Library is located at ICRC Headquarters on Avenue de la Paix.

15 Gustave Ador and Gustave Moynier, “Les huit premières années du Bulletin international”, 41st circular of the ICRC, 8 December 1877.

16 The collection comprises, for example, lists of prisoners of war held in France during the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian War. ICRC, Liste des prisonniers de guerre allemands internés en France, 1871 (AF 4290).

17 Meeting of the Committee, 12 January 1875, in Pitteloud, Jean-François (ed.), Procès-verbaux des séances du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge: 17 février 1863–28 août 1914, Henry Dunant Society and ICRC, Geneva, 1999, p. 332Google Scholar (quote translated from French), available at: Also see the review of this work by in, Patrick Haas International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 82, No. 838, 2000Google Scholar.

18 Meeting of the Committee, 24 November 1877, in J.-F. Pitteloud (ed.), above note 17, p. 426 (quote translated from French).

19 G. Moynier, above note 3, p. 199 (quote translated from French).

20 Raoul Aubry, Le livre rouge concernant la création de l'organisation du gouvernement Counanien jusqu'au 1er janvier 1903, 1903 (AF 1338).

21 G. Moynier, above note 3, p. 197 (quote translated from French).

22 Ibid., p. 199 (quote translated from French).

23 H. Dunant, above note 7.

24 Dunant, Henry, “Compte rendu de la Conférence internationale réunie à Genève les 26, 27, 28 et 29 octobre 1863 pour étudier les moyens de pourvoir à l'insuffisance du service sanitaire dans les armées en campagne”, extract from the Bulletin de la Société Genevoise d'Utilité Publique, No. 24, 1863 (AF 3012)Google Scholar, available at:

25 Adrien Brière (ed.), Conférence internationale pour la neutralisation du service de santé militaire en campagne, 1864 (AF 688), available at:

26 “Lettre du Comité international au Conseil fédéral (requête en faveur de la convocation d'un congrès diplomatique)”, 26 May 1864, in Actes du Comité international de Secours aux Militaires blessés, Imprimerie Soullier et Wirth, Geneva, 1871, pp. 1516 (AF 4291)Google Scholar.

27 Comité International de Secours aux Militaires Blessés, Secours aux blessés: Communication du Comité international faisant suite au compte rendu de la Conférence internationale de Genève, Imprimerie J. G. Fick, Geneva, 1864 (AF 3014)Google Scholar, available at: It is interesting to note that Secours aux blessés mentions several studies held in the Heritage Collection. For instance, it cites Uytterhoeven, André, Encore un mot sur les moyens de porter immédiatement secours aux blessés sur les champs de bataille, J. B. Tircher, Brussels, 1855 (AF 1283)Google Scholar. In Secours aux blessés, the Committee relied on Dr Uytterhoeven's work to argue that the wounded were not properly evacuated during most battles because there were not enough medical orderlies present. His book also proposed giving soldiers first-aid training, something of which the International Committee strongly approved.

28 Durant, Roger, “Louis Appia, un rebelle”, Cahiers de Genève Humanitaire, No. 5, 2013, pp. 5657Google Scholar.

29 Le Congrès de Genève: Rapport adressé au Conseil fédéral par MM. Dufour, Moynier et Lehmann, Imprimerie J. G. Fick, Geneva, 1864 (AF 2810), p. 4Google Scholar (quote translated from French), available at:

30 Der Kriegheildienst als internationale Frage”, Allgemeine Militär-Zeitung, No. 10, 9 March 1864Google Scholar. This was in fact a series of articles, many of which are available in the Heritage Collection: “Über die militärische und völkerrechtliche Bedeutung des bevorstehenden Genfer Congresses” (AF 411–415).

31 Durand, André, “Gustave Moynier”, Cahiers de Genève Humanitaire, No. 5, 2013, pp. 5051Google Scholar. In 1870, in his “Étude sur la Convention de Genève”, Moynier wrote that “[the Geneva Committee] went so far as to write the draft, unofficially”. Moynier, Gustave, Étude sur la Convention de Genève pour l'amélioration du sort des militaires blessés dans les armées en campagne: 1864 et 1868, J. Cherbuliez, Paris, 1870 (AF 3063), p. 65Google Scholar, available at:

32 J.-F. Pitteloud (ed.), above note 17.

33 F. Bugnion, above note 8, p. 1325. See also Segesser, Daniel Marc, “Le concept de neutralité et la Convention de Genève de 1864”, in Chanet, Jean-François, Crépin, Annie and Windler, Christian (eds), Le Temps des hommes doubles: Les arrangements face à l'occupation, de la Révolution française à la guerre de 1870, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, Rennes, 2013Google Scholar.

34 A. Brière, above note 25.

35 Le Congrès de Genève, above note 29, p. 3.

36 Lecomte, Ferdinand, “La Suisse et Le Congrès international de Genève”, Nouvelliste Vaudois, No. 232, 28 September 1864Google Scholar, No. 234, 30 September 1864, and No. 237, 4 October 1864. And see the refutation by Gustave Moynier, published in the same newspaper on 25 September 1864 (AF 4279).

37 G. Moynier, above note 31.

38 Gustave Moynier, “Note sur la création d'une Institution judiciaire internationale propre à prévenir et à réprimer les infractions à la Convention de Genève”, Soullier et Wirth, Geneva, 1872 (AF 622), available at:

39 See “Communication et documents relatifs à la fondation de l'Institut de droit international”, Revue de Droit International et de Législation Comparée, 1875 (AF 1293).

40 Bernard, M. and Moynier, Gustave, Les lois de la guerre sur terre: Manuel publié par l'institut de droit international. Rapport de la cinquième commission chargée de préparer un manuel relatif aux lois de la guerre, Muquardt, C., Brussels and Leipzig, and C. Schuchardt, Geneva, 1880 (AF 1298)Google Scholar.

41 F. Bugnion, above note 6, p. 62.

43 Ferguson, J. H., The Red Cross Alliance at Sea, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1871 (AF 2429)Google Scholar.

44 Convention (III) for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention of 22 August 1864, The Hague, 29 July 1899.

45 These reports are entitled Bericht über die Thätigkeit des Anhaltischen Landes-Vereins zur Pflege im Felde verwundeter und erkrankter Krieger und seine Kreisvereine etc. im Kriegsjahr 1870–1871 (AF 2489) and Verwaltungs-Bericht des Landesvereins zur Pflege im Felde verwundeter und erkrankter Krieger für das Herzogthum Altenburg 1870–1871 (AF 2490).

46 Vladan Georgevitch, Conférences publiques sur la Croix-Rouge, 1876 (Serbian original: AF 2783; handwritten French translation (translator unknown): AF 2784).

47 G. Moynier and L. Appia, above note 11.

48 This important publication contains all the basic texts on which the activities of the ICRC, the IFRC and the National Societies are based, such as the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, its statutes and regulations, the instruments of IHL, and the most important or most recent resolutions passed by the International Conferences. The Handbook is updated and re-issued periodically.

49 G. Moynier and L. Appia, above note 11 (quotes translated from French).

50 The practice of listing the Library's latest acquisitions in the Bulletin and later in the Review, along with new publications produced or received by the ICRC, continued for many years, although the title and the content of this section did change over time. Today, one can discover the Library's latest acquisitions via its online catalogue, available at:

51 Gustave Moynier first became interested in the international dimension of social issues when he represented the Société Genevoise d'Utilité Publique at the International Philanthropic Conference in Brussels in 1856. He took a particular interest in the idea of setting up a correspondence network that would link charitable organizations in several countries. The success of this first initiative undoubtedly played a role in the importance he attached to the International Conferences throughout his presidency.

52 The final acts of the International Conferences from 1863 to 1912 are held in the Heritage Collection under the call numbers AF 3012 (1863), AF 250 (1867), AF 509 (1869), AF 4292 (1884), AF 130 (1887), AF 423 (1892), AF 128 (1897), AF 2728 bis (1902), AF 403 (1907) and AF 211 (1912).

53 The 1867 International Exposition was a world fair held in Paris from April to October, with exhibitors from around the world displaying the latest scientific, technological and artistic innovations. Delegates of the International Conference took advantage of the Exposition to look for inventions and technological improvements that could help transport and care for the war wounded and thus serve their mission.

54 Première Conférence Internationale des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge à Paris 1867: Documents divers, 1867 (AF 250).

55 Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge de 1892 à 1902: Rapport communiqué à la VIIème Conférence internationale des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, à St-Pétersbourg, mai 1902, ICRC, Geneva, 1902 (AF 2842) (quote translated from French), available at:

56 Committee meeting, 18 May 1906, in J.-F. Pitteloud (ed.), above note 17, p. 655.

57 Appia, Louis, Le chirurgien à l'ambulance ou quelques études pratiques sur les plaies par armes à feu: Suivi de lettres à un collègue sur les blessés de Palestro, Magenta, Marignan et Solférino, J. Cherbuliez, Geneva, 1859 (AF 3017)Google Scholar.

58 See, especially, Palmieri, Daniel and Troyon, Brigitte, “The ICRC Delegate: An Exceptional Humanitarian Player?”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 89, No. 865, 2007Google Scholar.

59 Comité International de Secours aux Militaires Blessés, above note 27.

60 See, for instance, Rossa, Giovanni, Parole in suffragio dei soldati caduti nella battaglia di San Martino e Solferino Tip. della Sentinella Bresciana, Brescia, 1862 (AF 456)Google Scholar, which contains a handwritten dedication to “the author of the book A Memory of Solferino”. The author of Parole in suffragio, Canon Don Giovanni Rossa, played an active role in caring for the wounded following the Battle of Solferino in 1859 and probably knew Henry Dunant. He later helped set up the Red Cross sub-committee in Brescia: see David, Carolina and Giuliano, Livia, “Storia del Comitato di Brescia”, in Storia della Croce Rossa in Lombardia (1859–1914), Franco Angeli, Milan, 2014, pp. 9394Google Scholar.

61 A. Uytterhoeven, above note 27.

62 C. de Mooij, “Du transport des malades et blessés, aussi bien durant la paix qu'en temps de guerre, avec un léchophore, un brancard et un lit de camp”, Maastricht, 1866 (AF 2414).

63 Porter, J. H., The Surgeon's Pocket-Book: Being an Essay on the Best Treatment of Wounded in War, C. Griffin, London, 1875 (AF 1993)Google Scholar.

64 Il piccolo dizionario per l'infermiere volontario dei feriti in guerra/Das kleine Wörterbuch für den freiwilligen Verpfleger der Verwundeten im Kriege/Le petit dictionnaire pour l'infirmier volontaire des blessés en guerre, F. Lao, Palermo, 1866 (AF 2301–2302).

65 Berichte des Internationalen Hilfscomite für Kriegsgefangene in Basel, 1871 (AF 3016).

66 In 1898, Gustave Moynier was on the point of resigning as president for health reasons. His nephew and future successor Gustave Ador, who was also a member of the Committee, persuaded him to stay on as president but to hand over his administrative duties to a secretary. Paul Des Gouttes (1869–1943), a lawyer, took up the position at the end of 1898. The minutes of the Committee meeting of 11 October 1898 describe his duties in these terms: “In particular, Mr Des Gouttes will publish the Bulletin, for which he will be responsible. In addition, he will look after the offices of the Committee, will continue the cataloguing of the Library and will sort through the papers left by Mr Appia. … His title will be ‘secretary to the office of the President’.” Committee meeting of 11 October 1898, in J.-F. Pitteloud (ed.), above note 17, pp. 602–603 (quote translated from French). In 1943, following the death of Paul Des Gouttes, his widow donated his personal library to that of the Committee.

67 Étienne Clouzot (1881–1944) was an archivist palaeographer with a diploma from the École des Chartes in Paris. As director of one of the Entente sections of the International Prisoners of War Agency during the First World War, he drew up the rules that would be used to classify its millions of index cards. He became head of the ICRC Secretariat in 1919, and therefore took over the running of the Library. In 1939, fuelled by his experience in the International Prisoners of War Agency, he helped organize the Central Prisoners of War Agency, becoming a member of its Technical Directorate. He helped produce the Nouvelles de l'Agence Internationale des Prisonniers de Guerre and the Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge. He was also the ICRC's archivist. See, in particular, Demolis, Louis, “Étienne Clouzot”, Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, Vol. 26, No. 308, 1944, pp. 649651Google Scholar; Lemaître, Henri, “Étienne Clouzot”, Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes, Vol. 105, 1944, pp. 359363Google Scholar.

68 ICRCA, CR 91.