Atrocities in Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Myanmar may mock the concept of rules of war. But the Geneva Conventions on humane treatment of soldiers and civilians at least offer a vocabulary to call out crimes. They also provide a mandate and framework that enables the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), created in the same 1860s activist movement as the Geneva Conventions, to deliver humanitarian aid in war zones. That challenge is in stark relief this week: Yesterday, the group said it would “drastically” reduce its operations in Afghanistan after seven of its members were killed in attacks this year. (Natural disaster relief is provided by affiliated organizations like the American Red Cross.)

But war zones and war relief extend to cyberspace—through hacks that take out infrastructure as effectively as a bomb, through online posts that can provoke real-life violence, and through humanitarian needs that encompass connectivity and education. That’s the view of Peter Maurer, a Swiss diplomat and United Nations veteran who became president of the Geneva-based ICRC in 2012. Fast Company met up with him while he was on the U.S. West Coast to visit companies like Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, and Salesforce, as well as the Gates Foundation and the Swissnex incubator in San Francisco.


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