Message from Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for International Red Cross Day, 8 May 1953
The work of mercy towards those in distress of which the Red Cross is a symbol began on the battlefield of Solferino in 1859 when a Swiss traveller witnessing the horrors of war improvised a relief service to the wounded and the dying. Henri Dunant, the 125th anniversary of whose birth will be commemorated all over the world on 8th May, proclaimed that the victims of war had a right to be helped even in the heat of battle and that a truce of God should be recognized by all to allow nurses and doctors to go on their missions of mercy.
The Geneva Convention and the birth of the Red Cross were to be the outcome of Henri Dunant's untiring efforts, they were milestones in the development of human relationship: a world in turmoil put service to suffering man above all quarrels and all differences.
"Answer the question 'What have I done, what am I doing to help my fellow beings in need?'"
Today the work of the Red Cross is no longer confined to the battlefield. Men and women go into action to bring relief and alleviate distress whenever the elements turn against man. They go wherever there is illness, poverty and hunger. Among those who received help are the refugees. Recently the League of Red Cross Societies was instrumental in directing a great quantity of clothing originally collected to help the flood victims in the Netherlands to refugees all over the world. I should like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all who are engaged in this operation.
By fulfilling the duty which has been freely accepted by those serving under the Red Cross flag, men and women give an example of true brotherhood towards which the world must move if it is ever to live in peace. For there can be no harmony between peoples until the battle against suffering in all its forms is won.
This battle requires a formidable effort on the part of all nations and their leaders. International Red Cross Day is an appropriate moment to examine one's conscience and to answer the question, "What have I done, what am I doing to help my fellow beings in need?" It is not enough for those of goodwill to be moved by pity. The example of Henri Dunant shows how much can be achieved through perseverance and action.