Friday, March 17, 2006

Distinctive Emblems Post No 2: The Functions of the Distinctive Emblems

This serial post started some days before with Post No. 1, where I described the current developments concerning the distinctive emblems in international humanitarian law
What I will do now is to give a short and general overview of the functions said symbols have to fulfil in international humanitarian law.
The emblems, the Red Cross as the most important one, actually play an important role in the framework of international humanitarian protection. Rules covering the emblems can be found inter alia in Art. 38 – 44, 53, 54 First Geneva Convention, Art. 41 – 45 Second Geneva Convention, Art. 18 – 22 Fourth Geneva Convention all of 1949, Art. 8, 18, 38, 85 and Annex 1 First Additional Protocol and Art. 12 Second Additional Protocol both of 1977. The Red Cross, which is supposed to be an inversion of the Swiss flag, as an emblem in its current meaning has a very long history; it came into being as early as 1863 and was officially adopted in the Geneva Convention of 1864.
The distinctive emblems have different functions, a protective and an indicative one. Fulfilling the first function the symbol noticeably marks persons, vehicles and structures of the medical services of the armed forces, of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies specially protected by international humanitarian law during armed conflicts. As such it is a virtually constitutive element of protection under international humanitarian law. (ICRC, Notes, About the adoption  of an additional emblem: questions and  answers; Jean S. Pictet, The Geneva Conventions of 12. August 1949 – Commentary I, Geneva 1952, p. 325 et seq) This is obviously very important indeed. The distinctive emblem is THE visible sign of protection under international humanitarian law for medical personal and material; it is the first and most important way of showing the attacker what not to attack and it is thus necessary to make the protection of the before mentioned sites effective. As the involved personnel generally are not armed, they have to rely solely on the protective symbol to get over combat situations.
The second function of the emblems is to generally identify persons, vehicles and structures linked to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, in combat and any other situations. In this function the emblem is not intended to signify the protection of the convention and therefore should be used under conditions precluding all risk of confusion with the protective use of the emblem, e.g. the emblem should be small relative to the size of person ore object it identifies. (ICRC, Notes; Pictet, p. 330 et seq)

In Post 3 I will address the issue of the Red Crystal and in Post 4 the issue of the Red Cross Societies “defending” against the Gaming Industry.