I grew up in Geneva, so perhaps it’s fitting that when I think of the term ‘neutral’ the first thought that comes to mind is that of Switzerland. Indeed when the nascent International Committee of the Red Cross (and now, Red Crescent, with a Red Star of David and a Red Lion thrown in for good measure) chose its emblem, it took the colours of that country- a white cross on a red field- and simply inverted it. Today it is among the very best-known symbols of the world. It represents impartial assistance to any injured party, regardless of creed, colour or context. Its standing under International Humanitarian Law grants its bearers access to the most intense battlefields around the world to rescue people in need, and still today the ICRC retains an ethical stand at the very top of the humanitarian industry worldwide.
It is fitting then that humanitarian agencies since then have taken their lead from the ICRC in establishing their own charter of ethics. In the early 1990s, a consortium of international actors drew up what is broadly known as the Red Cross Code of Conduct (its full title reflects the role of non-governmental organizations in disaster relief as well). This is a voluntary code to which almost all of the major international non-governmental humanitarian agencies are signatories to and which are seen as guiding principles in the application of their assistance around the world.