Switzerland and the Red Cross (ICRC)

Despite not having fought a war for about 500 years the Swiss are very aware of military issues and they have a large army of part-timers. These are mostly men who between the ages of 18 and 50 take time off work to keep up their regular training and keep their weapons at home.

In 1859 a Swiss businessman from Geneva, Henri Dunant, witnessed the death or injury of 40,000 people on a single day (June 24th). Dunant happened to be travelling in the area and was shocked at how little provision there was for the injured soldiers in this conflict and many of the injured died needlessly. On his return he wrote an account of what he had seen - “A Memory from Solferino” – which was also an appeal for an international and protected nursing service for war times and war-torn places. A committee was set up in 1863 and in 1864 sixteen nations attended a conference which resulted in the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In recognition of the work of Dunant the emblem adopted was a red cross on a white background, the reversed image of the Swiss flag. Under the ICRC various international treaties were agreed banning the use of poison gas, banning biological weapons and defining the position of non-combatants. The treaties culminated in the 1949 Geneva conventions that are still the basis of International law.

The ICRC operates through the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the globe and traces prisoners of war and displaced civilians as well as monitoring conditions in conflicts. It spends 80% of its one billion Swiss franc budget on relief work. The red crescent symbol is mainly used in the Muslim world and there is a more recent (2005) additional symbol - the red crystal - which is non religious and non partisan. This is used, for example, in Israel.

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