Gustave Moynier

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Memorial bust for Gustave Moynier in the Parc des Bastions in Geneva

Louis Gabriel Gustave Moynier (born September 21, 1826 in Geneva ; † August 21, 1910 ibid) was a Swiss lawyer and was particularly active in various charitable organizations and associations in his hometown of Geneva. He was a co-founder of the International Committee of Aid Societies for the Care of the Wounded in 1863 , which has been called the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 1876 . A year after the founding of the committee, he took over from Guillaume-Henri Dufourthe office of President and held it until his death. Through his many years of activity as president, he made great contributions to the development of the ICRC in the first decades after its founding. Within the committee, however, he was considered to be an adversary of Henry Dunant , who had given the impetus to found the Red Cross movement with his book "A Memory of Solferino" published in 1862.

In addition, Gustave Moynier played a decisive role in founding the Institut de Droit international in September 1873, a scientific association for the further development of international law . He was thus significantly involved in the creation of two institutions that were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but without having received the award himself despite multiple nominations. The numerous honors of his work included, in addition to various honors specific to the Red Cross, high-ranking state orders of the time, memberships in learned societies and comparable organizations, and honorary doctorates from various universities in the fields of law, sociology and medicine.


Studies and social engagement

Gustave Moynier at a young age, exact date unknown

Gustave Moynier was born in Geneva in 1826 and came from a wealthy and respected family of traders and watchmakers who emigrated from Languedoc, France to Geneva for religious reasons in the 18th century and lived there in a bourgeois part of the city. His father Jacques André Moynier (1801–1885) married Laure Deonna in November 1824 and was active in Geneva local politics for twelve years, including from 1843 to 1846 as a member of the Conseil d'Etat , the State Council of the Canton of Geneva . Gustave Moynier was the only child out of his parents' marriage. In 1834 he first attended a private school in Geneva and then from 1835 to 1842 the Collège Calvin and until 1846 an academy to prepare for studies. The Moynier family went into exile in Paris in the same year due to the unrest in Geneva, which arose in October 1846 when the State Council and the Geneva Grand Council refused to dissolve the Sonderbund . Here he studied 1846-1850 Law and graduated in March 1850 and has a doctorate from, in July of the same year he received his license to practice law. In Paris he also met his future wife Jeanne-Françoise (1828–1912), a daughter of the banker Barthélemy Paccard. They married on June 14, 1851 and had two daughters and three sons during their marriage. However, three of the children died early.

The marriage with his wife brought him prosperity, social security and social recognition due to her origin, even beyond his own family circumstances. In particular, it freed him from the necessity of a regular job for a living. Because of his Calvinist convictions, soon after his return to Geneva in 1851, he began to deal with social problems and questions of the common good. A second reason was likely that he saw himself unsuitable for the profession of lawyer because of his introverted and shy character. In 1856 he took over the chairmanship of the Geneva Public Benefit Society. He was also active in around 40 other charitable organizations and groups, ranging from improving the situation of prison inmates to caring for orphans, and participated in several international charity conventions. In the wake of the unrest in the years 1856 to 1857 due to the royalist coup in Neuchâtel , Moynier served five weeks in the Swiss Army as a soldier in the Geneva Regiment in January and February 1857 .

In 1862 he received a copy of Henry Dunant's book “A Memory of Solferino”. He showed great interest in the realization of Dunant's ideas for the establishment of voluntary aid organizations for the care of war wounded and brought the book up for discussion on February 9, 1863 at the general meeting of the Geneva Public Benefit Society. In the debate that followed, he convinced the members of the Society after their initial concerns about Dunant's proposals. As a result, a committee of the society initially emerged as a committee of five to investigate the feasibility of Dunant's ideas. Members of this commission were, besides himself and Dunant, the doctors Louis Appia and Théodore Maunoir and the army general Guillaume-Henri Dufour . Just eight days later, the members renamed the commission to the International Committee of Aid Societies for the Care of Wounded , and in 1876 the committee was given the name International Committee of the Red Cross , which is still valid today . After its founding in 1863, Dufour was elected President of the body; Moynier was initially Vice-President. He played a key role in drafting the first Geneva Convention , which was passed a year later in August 1864.

The conflict with Henry Dunant

Contemporary representation of the five founding members of the International Committee (Moynier top left)

Differences between Moynier and Dunant on the question of how far the powers of the aid organizations to be founded should extend and how the foundation should be legally and organizationally revealed early on. The starting point of this dispute was Dunant's idea of ​​placing the auxiliary workers and wounded between the warring parties under the protection of neutrality in the event of an armed conflict . Moynier was a staunch opponent of this idea, since he thought it was hardly feasible and feared that the entire project would fail if it persisted. However, Dunant campaigned for his ideas with politically and militarily influential personalities all over Europe and was successful when the first Geneva Convention was passed in 1864. In the same year Moynier became President of the International Committee and in this function he mainly campaigned for the dissemination and acceptance of the Geneva Convention.

After taking office, however, there was also an increase in tensions between the pragmatist Moynier and the idealist Dunant. After Dunant's bankruptcy in 1867, this led to his exclusion from the International Committee, which was mainly operated by Moynier. Dunant left Geneva and lived in poor conditions in various European countries in the following years. It is believed that Moynier's influence prevented Dunant from receiving financial aid from supporters from various countries on several occasions. For example, due to Moynier's efforts, the Gold Medal of Sciences Morales at the Paris World's Fair in 1867 was not awarded to Dunant, but to Moynier, Dufour and Dunant in equal parts. The prize money did not go to Dunant, but was transferred to the International Committee. An offer from the French Emperor Napoléon III. Paying off half of Dunant's debts when his friends took over the other half was never realized because of Moynier's insistence.

ICRC presidency

Gustave Moynier's signature on the Geneva Convention of 1864 (second from top)

Shortly after taking office, in addition to helping war wounded, the ICRC's primary task was to investigate ways of preventing armed conflicts. He also dealt with the question of cooperation between the ICRC and the national Red Cross societies that emerged in the following decades . However, he later rejected his original idea that every society should send a member to the committee, particularly because of fears that this could lead to tension and impairment of the committee's activities in the event of conflicts. As early as 1870, he was of the opinion that the national societies would form an alliance that should be based primarily on the assurance of mutual support. In a way, he foresaw the founding of the League of Red Cross Societies , which did not take place until nine years after his death.

In order to publish and disseminate his ideas, he used his influence as editor of the Bulletin international des Sociétés de secours , the official body of the ICRC, first published in 1869 . In 1873, in the July issue of Bulletin, he published a review of the first ten years of the Red Cross movement. Henry Dunant was not mentioned in this article. It is historically not clearly understandable whether Moynier was afraid of negative consequences for the International Committee due to Dunant's dubious reputation, or whether he consciously wanted to portray himself as the sole founder of the Red Cross. In 1874 he first formulated four principles for the activity of the ICRC and the national societies, namely the existence of a single Red Cross society in each country (centralization), the preparation of the societies for action in the event of war (readiness), the indiscriminate treatment of the Sacrifice (neutrality) and cooperation between societies (solidarity). In later publications he postulated universality, charity, brotherhood, equality and non-discrimination as the principles to which every national society is committed and whose observance he regarded as a prerequisite for recognition by the International Committee. In particular, he attached particular importance to the cohesion between the national societies for the spread and further development of the Red Cross movement until his death. In 1882 he published a book on the genesis of the Red Cross under the title “La Croix-Rouge, son passé et son avenir” - “The Red Cross, its past and its future”.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Red Cross movement on September 18, 1888, he proposed the motto Inter arma caritas - “Charity in the midst of arms” - which is still valid today - as a common slogan for all Red Cross associations. In March 1889 he sent a publication to all the national societies entitled "But et Organization générale de la Croix Rouge", in which he summarized important general principles and rules for their activities. This brochure was expanded and reissued several times over the next few decades, and from 1930 it appeared as the “Handbook of the International Red Cross” (today “Handbook of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement”). In October 1898, due to health problems, he asked the International Committee to release him from the position of president. However, the other members convinced him to withdraw his resignation and instead give up some of his previous duties, such as the position of editor of the bulletin . Further attempts in 1904 and 1907 to withdraw from office only led to the release from further obligations, so that he continued to function at least officially as president.

He supported the initiative of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II to convene the first International Peace Conference in The Hague in 1899, but was unable to attend this conference himself due to his health problems. The ICRC was therefore only represented by Édouard Odier as a member of the Swiss delegation. Moynier welcomed the adoption at that conference of an agreement on the application of the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1864 to naval warfare. However, he saw a revision of the convention itself as a task of the ICRC in the context of a conference in Geneva and therefore opposed corresponding efforts in the run-up to the conference in The Hague. Between 1864 and 1885 he had published several proposals for expanding the convention and thus had a large share in the new version that was adopted in July 1906. One of the most important innovations was the explicit recognition of voluntary aid organizations to care for the war wounded.

The Institut de Droit international

Gustave Moynier in later years, exact date unknown

At a meeting of the International Committee on January 3, 1872, under the impression of massive violations of the Geneva Convention during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 , Moynier submitted for the first time a formal proposal for the establishment of an international court of arbitration to punish violations of the war - and international law . This proposal was then published in the Bulletin international des Sociétés de secours aux militaires blessés (Issue 11, April 1872, p. 11) under the title “Note on the creation of an institution judiciaire international propre à prévenir et à réprimer les infractions à la Convention de Geneva” . 122) published. Moynier fundamentally changed his view, published in 1870, that such a court of law was unnecessary, since the pressure of public opinion would be sufficient to enforce the Geneva Convention. Like the 1864 Convention, this draft also consisted of ten articles. At a time when many nation states were only just emerging and thus sovereignty and national consciousness shaped the mood in Europe, this proposal was not officially supported by any country and therefore not implemented.

A year later, on September 8, 1873, Moynier and ten other lawyers from different countries founded the Institut de Droit international (Institute for International Law) in Ghent, Belgium . As an independent institution, this institute should contribute to the further development of international law and its implementation. Moynier, along with the Belgian lawyer Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns , whom he had met in 1862 during a welfare congress in London , had the largest share in the idea of ​​the establishment. On September 9, 1880, the Manuel des lois de la guerre sur terre , written by him, was unanimously adopted by the sixth meeting of the Institute in Oxford. This manual , also known as the Oxford Manual , was primarily intended as a basis for national legislation on martial law in the states of the time. In 1892 he chaired the 13th meeting of the institute in Geneva, and two years later he was appointed honorary president as the second member after Rolin-Jaequemyns.

Moynier and the Peace Movement

The family estate, the Moynier villa in Geneva's Parc Moynier

In May 1868 Moynier was also a member of the Ligue internationale et permanente de la Paix , the international peace league founded by Frédéric Passy a year earlier . Since he had joined the league within the first year of its founding, Moynier is also considered a founding member of the Ligue internationale et permanente de la Paix . One of the reasons for joining was allegations by peace activists that the activities of the Red Cross would make wars more bearable and therefore more likely. He himself was always of the opinion that the peace movement and the Red Cross movement were united in the rejection of war, but would use different ways and means to achieve this goal. Although he saw war as a "grim disease" and arbitration, disarmament and the spread of pacifist ideals as approaches to treating them, he was also aware of the inadequacies of these means. He saw the contribution of the idea of ​​the Red Cross to peace in particular in the dismantling of national egoisms, which resulted from the obligation of the Red Cross societies to provide assistance without distinction.

Moynier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, 1903 and 1905 by Fredrik Herman Rikard Kleen , a member of the Institut de Droit international . In contrast to Dunant, who was awarded the prize for the first time in 1901 together with Frédéric Passy , he did not receive it. In 1917, 1944 and 1963, the ICRC was the only winner to date to receive the Nobel Peace Prize three times. The work of the Institut de Droit international was also honored with the award in 1904, and thus while Moynier was still alive. Although he himself never received this recognition, it is therefore his essential life achievement to have played a decisive role in the founding and development of two institutions that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Act as Consul General of the Congo Free State

From 1876 Moynier supported the colonial efforts of Belgium under King Leopold II in the African Congo region . In 1879 he founded the monthly magazine “L'Afrique explorée et civilisée” and was appointed Consul General of the Congo Free State by Leopold II on May 22, 1890. An essay by him, which he presented to the Institut de Droit international in 1883 and which was sent to all European governments, made a decisive contribution to the recognition of the Congo Free State, proclaimed by Leopold II, at the international Congo Conference in Berlin in 1885. In view of Moynier's other activities in the field of international law, it seems questionable from today's perspective why he supported the conquest of the Congo by Leopold II as his private property, which is unique under international law. His Christian beliefs about charity and the common good probably played a role. In 1876, at an international conference, King Leopold II proposed the establishment of a non-profit committee for the «spread of civilization among the peoples of the Congo region through scientific investigation, legal trade and the fight against Arab slave traders» and later the «Brussels Conferences» to combat the slave trade brought to life. The rejection of the slave trade by Leopold II was, however, in view of his actions in the Congo, little more than an attempt to cover up the colonial reality there. From Moynier's point of view, however, it coincided with his demands for the abolition of slavery , a position that was not taken for granted at the time. On January 11, 1904, he resigned from the post of Consul General of the Congo for health reasons, and in March of the same year he was appointed Honorary Consul.

Last years of life and death

Grave site on the Cimetière des Rois in Plainpalais, Geneva

In 1902 Gustave Moynier donated 20,000 Swiss francs to use the proceeds of this capital to finance a library in Geneva, which was to be devoted to the collection of publications on international law and humanitarian issues. This library opened on January 15, 1905. Today it is part of the City and University Library of Geneva as Salle Moynier and comprises around 1,200 titles. In addition, in the last years of his life he set up a room in his house as a small museum, in which he presented his numerous awards and collected works to the public.

He died in his hometown in 1910, two months before Dunant, without any reconciliation between them. His grave is located in area G of the Cimetière des Rois , an exclusive cemetery in Geneva, where the reformer Johannes Calvin was buried alongside other prominent citizens of the city . Although Moynier had given up all administrative tasks within the International Committee of the Red Cross in recent years, he remained its president until his death. In the history of the committee, he was the president with the longest tenure and, through Dunant's early expulsion and the death of the other three founders (1869 - Théodore Maunoir; 1875 - Guillaume-Henri Dufour; 1898 - Louis Appia), the last remaining Member of the original Committee of Five .

His successor in the office of president was his nephew Gustave Ador , who had been a member of the committee since 1870. His son Adolphe, who like his father had studied law and worked as a stockbroker, was also the treasurer of the ICRC from 1898 to 1918. The Villa Moynier on Lake Geneva , the former family estate and now the seat of the ICRC, is now used by the University of Geneva and the European Cultural Center in Geneva.

Reception and aftermath

Life's work

In view of Moynier's activities, it is not appropriate to regard him as merely the adversary of Henry Dunant in terms of historical significance. Through his many years of service as President of the ICRC, he succeeded in consolidating the emerging Red Cross movement and thus contributing significantly to the spread of the idea of ​​the Red Cross. With his work in the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as with the founding and activity of the Institut de Droit international, he also played a decisive role in the development and development of international humanitarian law . Through his commitment to international humanitarian law, he also contributed to giving the Red Cross movement a secular normative foundation based on legal principles . Despite his own Calvinist convictions, he consciously gave preference to a universally acceptable basis over the originally Christian ideals that had led to the founding of the International Committee. He understood the rules formulated in international humanitarian law as “la philosophie naturelle”, that is, as natural law that applies independently of religious beliefs. His work, however, was also characterized by a very conservative attitude, especially in later years. Above all, he wanted to preserve what had already been achieved or what already existed and not endanger it through changes and additions. Unlike Henry Dunant and Louis Appia, for example, during his entire tenure in office he opposed the expansion of the responsibilities of the Red Cross movement to activities for the benefit of prisoners of war or refugees , or in peacetime for the victims of natural disasters . In this regard, he advocated maintaining the original mandate and a strict separation between wounded soldiers and unwounded war victims.

In contrast to Dunant's charismatic idealism, Moynier's activity - and success - rested on pragmatic patience, diplomacy, and perseverance. He was considered to be of firm character and unshakable in terms of his moral and religious principles. Nevertheless, his personality was described as shy, humorless and self-doubting, characterized by a religiously based fearful striving for success and recognition as well as a pronounced lack of self-confidence. In contrast to Henry Dunant's religious ideas, especially in his later years, Moynier's faith was not shaped by mystical ideas , but primarily by rationalism. His personal dealings with Dunant were based on the one hand on the fear that Moynier's excessive zeal and idealism would make the idea of ​​the Red Cross fail. Another reason, especially in the later years of his life, was the evaluation of his own decades of work in comparison to what Dunant had achieved with his book within a short period of time, which was expressed in the Nobel Prize award to Dunant and, in Moynier's opinion, was unjustified. However, some authors also question the view that Dunant and Moynier were equally involved in the creation of the Red Cross and that the work of both was an important prerequisite for its success. Due to the fundamentally different ideals and character traits of the two protagonists, it is rather unlikely that there was or could have been a substantial cooperation for a common goal with mutually complementary efforts. A related presentation of the Red Cross story arises from this view, according to the endeavor to gloss over the importance of Moynier's activities (see Ottaviani et al. In Vesalius , 2005).

Awards and recognition

Rue Gustave-Moynier in Geneva

Gustave Moynier's work was recognized in many ways during his lifetime. Several national Red Cross societies made him an honorary member. In October 1867, like Henry Dunant and Louis Appia seven years earlier, he received the Order of Saint Mauritius and Lazarus, the second highest award of the Kingdom of Italy and two years later the Order of the Dutch Lion . On the part of the German royal houses, among other things, he was appointed second class knight of the Prussian Order of the Crown in June 1869 , and in February 1870 he was awarded the second class commentary cross of the Württemberg Order of Frederick . In August 1871 he was accepted as an officer in the French Legion of Honor . The University of Bern made him an honorary doctorate in law in October 1885 . Two years later, he received the Order of the Rising Sun, the highest honor that can be bestowed on foreigners in Japan . In June 1898, the first hospital ship in history to fly the Red Cross flag in the United States was christened "Moynier". The University of Geneva awarded him an honorary doctorate in sociology in June 1901 , and a year later he was made a foreign associate member of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques . In April 1903 he and Henry Dunant received an honorary doctorate from the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University . The Parc Moynier and Rue Gustave-Moynier street in Geneva are named after him, and a memorial bust is in Geneva’s Parc des Bastions .

Literary representation

An early portrayal of Gustave Moynier's role in Red Cross history is the work “Le Berceau de la Croix Rouge” by historian Alexis François from the University of Geneva, which was published in Geneva in 1918, eight years after Moynier's death, and was one of the first historical studies of the origin of the Red Cross was. The 2005 book "The Geneva Convention: The Hidden Origins of the Red Cross" by the Irish-born and Geneva-based author Angela Bennett portrays the phase in Gustave Moynier's life that led to the conclusion of the first Geneva Convention in 1864 and through it aggravating conflict with Henry Dunant was marked. The work alternately describes the work of both protagonists and their respective share in the success of the joint efforts. A comprehensive biography, based on an unfinished manuscript by André Durand , was published by the Geneva lawyer and historian Jean de Senarclens in French in 2000 and an English translation in 2005.

Works (selection)

  • La guerre et la charité. Traité théoritique et pratique de philanthropie appliquée aux armées en campagne. Cherbuliez, Paris and Geneva 1867 (together with Louis Appia)
  • The institutions ouvrières de la Suisse. Mémoire. Cherbuliez, Geneva 1867
  • La Croix-Rouge, now passé et son avenir. Sandoz et Thuillier, Paris 1882
  • But et Organization générale de la Croix Rouge. Geneva 1889
  • L'institut de droit international. Picard, Paris 1890
  • Conference on the Convention de Genève. Soullier, Geneva 1891


  • François Bugnion: Gustave Moynier 1826–1910. German Red Cross, Henry Dunant Society and “Humanitarian Geneva” research center, Berlin and Geneva 2011, ISBN 2-88-163038-3
  • Jean de Senarclens: The Founding of the Red Cross: Gustave Moynier, its Master Builder. Editions Slatkine, Geneva 2005, ISBN 2-83-210222-0 ; French-language original edition: Gustave Moynier: le bâtisseur. Editions Slatkine, Geneva 2000, ISBN 2-05-101839-1
  • Pierre Boissier : History of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Volume I: From Solferino to Tsushima. Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva 1985, ISBN 2-88-044012-2
  • Caroline Moorehead : Dunant's Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross. HarperCollins, London 1998, ISBN 0-00-255141-1 (hardcover); HarperCollins, London 1999, ISBN 0-00-638883-3 (paperback edition)
  • Angela Bennett: The Geneva Convention: The Hidden Origins of the Red Cross. Sutton Publishing, Gloucestershire 2005, ISBN 0-75-094147-2
  • André Durand : Gustave Moynier and the Peace Societies. In: International Review of the Red Cross. 314/1996. ICRC, pp. 532-550, ISSN  1560-7755
  • Christopher Keith Hall: The First Proposal for a Permanent International Criminal Court. In: International Review of the Red Cross. 322/1998. ICRC, pp. 57-74, ISSN  1560-7755
  • André Durand : The International Committee of the Red Cross at the Time of the First Hague Peace Conference (1899). In: International Review of the Red Cross. 834/1999. ICRC, pp. 353-364, ISSN  1560-7755
  • André Durand : The first Nobel Prize (1901) Henry Dunant, Gustave Moynier and the International Committee of the Red Cross as candidates. In: International Review of the Red Cross. 842/2001. ICRC, pp. 275-285, ISSN  1560-7755
  • James Cockayne: Islam and International Humanitarian Law: From a Clash to a Conversation between Civilizations. In: International Review of the Red Cross. 847/2002. ICRC, pp. 597-626, ISSN  1560-7755
  • Raimonda Ottaviani, Duccio Vanni, M. Grazia Baccolo, Elizabeth Guerin, Paolo Vanni: Rewriting the Biography of Henry Dunant, the Founder of the International Red Cross. In: Vesalius - Acta Internationalia Historiae Medicinae. 11 (1 )/2005. International Society for the History of Medicine, pp. 21-25

Web links

Commons : Gustave Moynier  - collection of images, videos and audio files
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on March 26, 2006 in this version .