Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Distinctive Emblems Post No 3: The Red Crystal

After Post No. 1, where I addressed the current developments concerning the distinctive emblems in international humanitarian law, and Post No. 2, where I described the function of said emblems in international humanitarian law, I will now turn to the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol, the establishment of the Red Crystal as new distinctive emblem.


Seeing the importance of the emblems in armed conflicts the question this post wants to address is why there was a need to draft a convention establishing a new emblem, the Red Crystal.

An interesting starting point for this question is the historical fact that for a long time there were attempts to prevent symbols other than the Red Cross from acquiring the status of a protective sign under international humanitarian law. When the Red Cross was officially adopted in 1864 it was regarded as essential to have one single uniform emblem only.( Jean S. Pictet, The Geneva Conventions of 12. August 1949 – Commentary I, Geneva 1952, p. 300 et seq.) There are some obvious advantages if only one international symbol is generally accepted. Misunderstandings could be prevented, prejudices against emblems used by a single state can be avoided. However, already in 1876, Turkey, which had acceded to the Geneva Convention in 1865, notified the Swiss Federal Council that its Medical Service would display a red crescent instead of a red cross, because the latter sign was offensive to Muslim soldiers due to the history of the crusades.(Pictet, p. 298) Turkey, in demanding an exception from the obligation to use the Red Cross as a protective sign was later followed by Egypt, also running the Red Crescent, and Persia, running a Red Lion and Sun instead of the Red Cross (Iran did so until 1980 when it adopted the Red Crescent (ICRC, Notes, About the adoption of an additional emblem: questions and answers.)). After a diplomatic struggle the positions of those three states were legally accepted in 1929 but only as an exception effective for those states. It was clear that this arrangement was made to suppress any further claim for exceptions; however, several Muslim States adopted the Red Crescent even after 1929. (Pictet, p. 299.) Contrary to these developments there was a strong tendency to return to a single emblem up to the negotiations on the 1949 Geneva conventions, because it was seen as illogical as well as dangerous to replace a uniform, internationally accepted sign, devoid of any religious implications, by a variety of national or religious emblems. In the negotiations of 1949 this position had to face other claims by states to accept other exceptions to the Red Cross symbol. Together both positions cancelled each other out, leading to a cementation of the status quo in the 1949 Geneva Convention, saying that the exceptions, Red Crescent and Red Lion, are accepted but only for those states already using those symbols prior to 1949. (Pictet, p. 299.)

Seeing this development it becomes clear that the Third Additional Protocol and the Red Crystal had to come up with good solutions for grave problems in order to overcome the established desire for one single uniform emblem.
So what are the reasons leading to the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol despite those desires? The first problem that the Red Crystal has been designed to solve becomes obvious from the history of the three today accepted symbols. The Red Cross as a symbol until today is often understood as having religious connotations and it has to be said that this is not so far off. The Red Cross is chosen as the protective sign in international humanitarian law in honour of Henry Dunant and his country of origin, because it was felt that it would embody the fundamental principles of neutrality. It was designed as a negative of the Swiss flag (See Art. 38 First Geneva Convention of 1949), often leading to the assumption that there is no religious background. (See for example the statement of the head of the delegation of the Holy Sea, Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneca, 1949, Vol. II A, p. 150; or ICRC, Notes) The Swiss flag however deduces from Christianity in all “legends” told to explain the origin of the symbol.( See Kopp, Schweizerkreuz, in Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz) So even if the choice of the drafters of the Geneva Convention of 1864 definitely had no religious implications, the roots indeed may have been religious, although this is not certain. Independently of the correctness or reasonableness of that understanding of the Red Cross Symbol, it is clear that the existence of such an understanding undermines the respect for the symbol, at least in some countries. This becomes obvious from the desire to use the Red Crescent as an alternative symbol which is an expression of the discomfort the Red Cross may cause. Such respect, though, is essential for the symbol to fulfil its protective function, as it is the respect for the symbol and the represented legal norms and obligations which guarantees the protection of the victims of war as well as of medical personal. The attempts to agree upon the Red Cross as the only protective sign, to clear up the religious doubts connected with the cross, have obviously failed so that another solution had to be found.

Another problem that has arisen is also related to the issue of religion and national symbols. In the negotiations to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 it became obvious that the Israeli delegation insisted on the Israeli Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, being allowed to use the Red Shield of David on white ground instead of a Red Cross. (ICRC, Notes; Pictet, p. 302 et seq.) That the claim was rejected is the reason for the Israelis not to join the Movement. Other states’ Red Cross Societies like that of Eritrea wanted to use both the Red Cross and the Red Crescent together. The universality of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a declared goal, could not have been reached under these circumstances, so that again there was a search for another solution.
The Red Crystal is an attempt to finally put an end to all those discussions and to enable the Red Cross Movement to gain universal acceptance.

It is interesting to see that the idea of a new emblem was already brought up at the 1949 Conference, leading to the Geneva Conventions. The idea was to abolish the Red Cross, together with all other emblems, and to substitute a new sign (One suggestion was a heart as symbol for charity). The idea was rejected in 1949 as seeking to abandon a universally accepted emblem and thus endangering lives.( Pictet, p. 302)
The question therefore is how the Third Protocol overcame all the doubts. Are the norms so well balanced that they can overcome all doubts or was it just the time fore a new emblem?
According to Art. 2, the Red Crystal is recognized as a new distinctive emblem in addition to the emblems found in the Geneva Convention, e.g. Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun. The Red Crystal therefore can be used alone, e.g. as displayed above, therefore in both functions of a distinctive emblem. Concerning the protective function, this gives states unwilling to use the other symbols for religious reasons the possibility to use a symbol without religious connotations. The Third Protocol thus respects both positions, taking up the doubts many states have against using Red Cross or Red Crescent, but declining the wish of many states to use their own symbol so that a certain uniformity is maintained. Where only the indicative function of the emblems is concerned the Third Protocol allows an even more flexible use of the emblems. According to Art. 3, it is possible to incorporate the emblem recognized by the Geneva Conventions, even a combination of these emblems, or another emblem which has been in effective use by a High Contracting Party into the Red Crystal. This gives for example Israel the possibility, on their territory and for indicative objectives only, to incorporate the Red Shield of David.

In Post 4, which will be the last post of this series, I will address the issue of the Red Cross Societies “defending” against the Gaming Industry.
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