IFRC


The emblem debate

1. Introduction

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement welcomed the decision of the diplomatic conference of the States Party to the Geneva Conventions held in Geneva, in December 2005, to adopt a Third Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions, which created the red crystal emblem alongside the red cross and red crescent.

It appears as a red frame in the shape of a square on edge, on a white background. It is free from any religious, political or other connotation.

The red crystal was formally incorporated into the Statutes of the Movement at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in Geneva from 20 to 22 June 2006. The completion of this process has provided the Movement with a comprehensive and lasting solution to the decades-old question of the emblem.

2. What was the emblem debate about?

The emblems recognized by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 are the red cross, the red crescent and the red lion and sun. Because of the Conventions and the rules of the International Movement, a National Society had to use one of them to be recognized as a Movement member. Since 1980, only the red cross and red crescent emblems have been in use.

With the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol in December 2005, the red crystal is now also a recognized distinctive sign under international law, with the same status as the red cross and red crescent.

The emblems are used throughout the world to protect medical personnel, buildings and equipment in time of armed conflict and to identify national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Unfortunately, the red cross and red crescent emblems have sometimes been wrongly perceived as having religious, cultural or political connotations. This has affected respect for the emblems and has diminished the protection the emblems offer to victims and to humanitarian and medical personnel.

The debate that led to the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol recognized the need to provide protection in cases where neither the red cross nor the red crescent is respected as neutral.

The debate also considered the needs of those National Societies that were unable to join the Movement because of their inability to use either the red cross or the red crescent. The adoption of the Third Protocol and the incorporation of the red crystal into the Statutes of the Movement makes it possible for those Societies to use the red crystal without endangering their own traditions. Magen David Adom in Israel is the first National Society to use the red crystal emblem.

3. What was the role of the Third Additional Protocol in this debate?

The incorporation of the red crystal by the Movement was only possible once governments had established the new emblem itself. This is because the red crystal had to have the same status in international law as the red cross and red crescent, and be created by governments in a treaty.

This solution was endorsed by governments and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in 2000, and the draft Third Additional Protocol was then prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in close collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Draft Third Protocol was the basic document guiding the actions of the ICRC, the International Federation and National Societies until the final adoption of the Protocol on 8 December 2005.

4. Why is there more than one emblem in use?

During the Geneva conferences of 1863 and 1864, which established the rules that have now become the Geneva Conventions, a red cross on a white background was adopted as a neutral emblem. It was intended to be universal and easily recognized in order to protect medical personnel and facilities from attack during armed conflicts. This was not a religious symbol; it was simply the reversal of the colours of the Swiss flag. As such, it was felt it would embody the fundamental requirement of neutrality.

Other connotations soon became evident. In the war between Russia and Turkey in 1876-78, the Ottoman Empire, although it had acceded to the Geneva Convention of 1864 without any reservation, declared that it would use the red crescent to mark its own ambulances while respecting the red cross sign protecting enemy ambulances. This use of the red crescent became the practice for the Ottoman Empire.

After lengthy discussions, the diplomatic conference of 1929 agreed, for those countries that already used them, to recognize the red crescent and the red lion and sun, the emblem that had been used for some time by Persia, now Iran. The conference, in order to forestall further requests and a possible proliferation of emblems in the future, made a point of stating that no new emblems would be recognized.

Since that time, the red crescent emblem has become widely used by many countries. Proposals by other countries for alternative emblems have not been agreed to. The Islamic Republic of Iran discontinued using the red lion and sun emblem in 1980 and adopted the red crescent instead.



The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright