Saturday, March 04, 2006

Distinctive Emblems Post No 1: Current Developments

I think I have to apologize (seeing that Björn already posted 5 times) for start posting only now but I was more than busy for the last two weeks. In the time before this blog came into being some interesting questions concerning international humanitarian law have been raised and I will, from now on, try to work some of them off. Naturally I will also try to stay in touch with current events.

I decided first to address a not that hot topic (at least politically or morally) that was newsworthy in several aspects and developments in the last few month. The role of the Red Cross-, Red Crescent-, Red Lion-Symbols (often called distinctive emblems or protective symbols) in armed conflicts and in international humanitarian law. There are several issues that are worth discussing within this topic so I decided to make this a sort of serial post. I will address the current developments that made the distinctive emblems a topic worth talking about in this post, and examine each issue in a later post.

The first interesting development obviously is the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol on 8 December 2005, establishing the Red Crystal as an additional protective symbol under international humanitarian law. We all know that the Third Protocol has been adopted but what are the distinctive symbols all about and where lies the need for such a new symbol? The Red Cross and Red Crescent are more then well known after all.
For some time I thought that probably there was a major development going on but that I did not understand its importance. This development alone therefore probably would have been a reason to review the humanitarian norms on said symbols, but there are other interesting developments concerning related aspects of international humanitarian law.
The Canadian Red Cross (CRC) decided to admonish the video/computer games industry on their illegal use of the Red Cross symbol and did so in a letter published by on 3 February 2006 (see also the interview with David Pratt of the CRC at and it is reported that the British Red Cross (BRC) is approaching the games industry (See in the same regard.
The situation is as follows, as most of our readers probably know. In many video games, especially ego shooters, the icon of the red cross is used on items like health packs, potions or similar objects; in other games, playing in war related scenarios, the red cross is used depicting Red Cross facilities and vehicles rendering the game more realistic. Because there is no control over this usage of said symbol the CRC and the BRC are acting. The question is to what extent this reaction guided by legal norms, if it is a normal reaction or just aiming at the anyway pressed gaming industry and lastly if the reaction seems to be reasonable.
I have to admit that this issue was already shortly addressed for example on opinio juris (and probably many other blogs), mainly concerning the alleged illegality of the use of the Red Cross Symbol. It seems important however to talk a little bit more about the reasoning behind the norms protecting the Red Cross and the other symbols. Why? Because at first sight I thought (if I am looking around in the blogging sphere I have to say like many others) it a waste of time and money by the CRC to make such a fuss about some video games, even if the publication is prohibited in principle. With a second thought however I regarded it as necessary to know more about the background of said rules in order to be able to judge upon the admonition by the CRC.

After I have generally addressed the functions of the distinctive emblems in Post 2 of this serial post, I will address the issue of the Red Crystal in Post 3 and the issue of the Red Cross Societies “defending” against the Gaming Industry in Post 4.