150 years of humanitarian reflection: A momentous anniversary
Many know the International Review of the Red Cross as an academic publication dedicated to issues of international humanitarian law, policy and action produced by the ICRC and published by Cambridge University Press., but not everyone who is familiar with the journal may be aware of its long history. First published in October 1869 as the Bulletin International des Sociétés de Secours aux Militaires Blessés, it was initially a platform for exchange between the different relief societies that were being established around that time, which later became the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies that form the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the largest humanitarian network in the world. The journal also served as a tool for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to promote ideas and guide the Movement.
The title of the journal changed several times over the years, first becoming the Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge in 1886—finally making “Red Cross” part of the official title— and in 1919 adding a regular section dedicated to the ICRC’s activities called the Revue International de la Croix-Rouge. The Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge continued to be one of the official titles of the journal until July 1955, when the title disappeared. In 1961, the full-length English version of the journal, the International Review of the Red Cross was established, and in 2005 it became the main version of the publication (although selections of articles in Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian continue to be regularly published, and content is translated into other languages on an ad hoc basis).
With time, the Review developed into a tool of influence. One notable example was the efforts to persuade States to adopt the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. The reports from National Societies that once were the bulk of the journal’s contents gradually faded away as it became increasingly an academic and primarily legal journal. The focus also shifted from raising awareness of international humanitarian law (IHL) to providing a platform for legal and policy debates surrounding contemporary controversies. The thematic approach of the journal allows for topics of particular interest to be highlighted and serves to stimulate academic research and discussion, such as Migration and displacement or The Sahel that feed thinking on future law and policy developments and contribute to the creation of an environment conducive to humanitarian action.
To mark this important birthday, the Review has published a special edition, and is hosting an exhibit dedicated to the history of the journal in the Humanitarium at ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Pages: 150 years of the International Review of the Red Cross, which will run until 30 April 2020. The ICRC has also made the entire collection of the journal since 1869 freely available online, in the interest of stimulating further research and debate. We hope you will join us in celebrating the first 150 years of the journal!
Enjoy free access to this commemorative issue of IRRC until the end of 2019.