Gustave Moynier was born in 1826 into an influential Genevan Family of merchants and watchmakers. At the age of twenty he relocated to Paris, due to political upheavals in Geneva at the time, and stayed there in order to complete his law studies and earn his doctorate degree. His marriage to Jeanne-Françoise Paccard gave him financial independence giving him the freedom to follow his Calvinist ideals and turn to charitable work and philanthropy.
Upon reading Henry Dunant’s Un souvenir de Solferino, Moynier suggested the book to be discussed at the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. This led to the investigation of Dunant’s vision to institutionalize care for wounded soldiers during the time of conflict and ultimately, the creation of what is now known as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Moynier took a very active role in shaping the organisation, first as vice-president to Henri Dufour, later on as president, an office Moynier would hold until his death. He notably proposed the creation of an international tribunal to sanction breaches of the Geneva Convention, a text, which is discussed below. However, differences over legal as well as organizational issues caused friction from very early on. Moynier’s pragmatic approach to working within the ICRC soon led to the deterioration of his relationship with the idealist Henry Dunant. It is said that it was Moynier who pushed for Henry Dunant’s exclusion from the ICRC after the latter was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1868.
However, Moynier’s interest in international law also manifested itself outside the ICRC. In 1873, Moynier was among the initiators of the Institut de droit international (IDI). Together with ten other jurists, among them the Swiss Johann Caspar Bluntschli and Friedrich Fromhold Martens from Russia, he created the IDI an independent institution with the goal to develop and promote international law and its implementation. On the occasion of the sixth conference of the IDI in Oxford in 1880, the Institute published one of Moynier’s main works, the Manuel des lois de la guerre sur terre. The Oxford Manual, as it is also known, aimed mainly to codify already existing principles and customary law of warfare and facilitate the integration of such law into the national legislation of individual states.
Later in life, Moynier supported the Belgian vision for the Congo and expressed his view that the Congo should become a Free State and, as such, be part of the private property of the Belgian King, Leopold II. In 1890, he was named General Consul of the Congo Free State to Switzerland.
Moynier was nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize personally (1901, 1902, 1903 and 1905), however, he was never awarded it. On the other hand, on an institutional level, the ICRC received it three times (1917, 1944 and 1963) and the Institute for International Law once, in 1904. He passed away in 1910 in Séchéron, Switzerland.