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The emblem:
towards universality

by Jean-François Berger



The move to create an additional emblem for the Movement has encountered a delay, but its chief proponents remain optimistic.

The Diplomatic Conference on the Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions relating to the emblems, due to be held on 25 and 26 October 2000 in Geneva, did not take place as planned. The 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which was to have followed shortly after, was also postponed. The reason for the postponements was that "the necessary conditions for achieving a consensus on the question of the emblems are, in light of the recent developments in the Middle East, not met for the time being", to quote the press release issued by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

The decision was inevitable, given the sudden resurgence of tensions in Israel and in the occupied and the autonomous territories. Even so, the main organizers of the conference have not abandoned hope. Despite the postponement of the two meetings, they emphasize the progress made in the consultations on the creation of an additional emblem for the Movement, free of any national or religious connotation, that could be recognised alongside the red cross and red crescent emblems and be put at the disposal of those states and National Societies which cannot decide to use the existing emblems. How realistic this is, the future will tell.

While the Swiss government's decision to put off the Diplomatic Conference is understandable, the ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger, says that "the strong determination I had from the moment of taking office remains unchanged - to contribute to the creation, as quickly as possible, of the conditions for full membership of the Movement of the societies which have problems with existing emblems." Didier Cherpitel, secretary general of the Federation, is similarly resolute. He believes, "the work done, and represented in the draft protocol, is a clear expression of the wish of the world community to achieve true universality for our Movement as soon as possible". To support this dynamic, the "draft Protocol relating to the adoption of an additional distinctive emblem" (Additional Protocol III) was sent on 12 October by the Swiss government to all the States party to the Geneva Conventions. The text is also considered by the Movement's Standing Commission as a sound basis for the work of the Diplomatic Conference when it meets to negotiate the protocol. Meanwhile, Switzerland is continuing its discussions with all the States concerned on the use and shape of the additional emblem.

Jean-François Berger

The story so far

The current attempts to solve emblem problems date back to the mid-1990s, when a Movement expert working group was set up. The culmination of its work was the resolution adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which met in Geneva in 1999. This resolution called for a "comprehensive solution, as rapidly as possible, which is acceptable to all parties in terms of substance and procedure".

The Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had the task of taking action on the resolution. It decided, in January 2000, that the best way forward was a joint working group of states and the Red Cross Red Crescent. This recognized that governments now had to become directly involved.

The joint working group met for the first time in Geneva in April 2000 and was composed of 16 states and 8 represent-atives of the Movement. It was jointly chaired by the Senegalese ambassador to Geneva, Madame Absa Claude Diallo and by Mrs. Christina Magnuson, member of the Standing Commission. The group concluded that an additional emblem was needed to solve protection problems in situations where the red cross or red crescent was not well accepted, and for use by those National Societies which could not use the existing emblems, thus enabling them to join the Red Cross Red Crescent family.

The creation of an additional emblem required two essential things: agreement by governments to add another emblem to those specified in the Geneva Conventions, and agreement by both governments and National Societies to amend the statutes of the Movement.

The joint working group considered a third protocol should be added to the Geneva Conventions. This required a Diplomatic Conference of the 189 states party to the Geneva Conventions, which was called by the Swiss government for25 and 26 October 2000. Meanwhile, the Standing Commission called the special 28th International Conference for 14 November in order to amend the statutes. A draft protocol was drawn up to define the shape and use of the additional emblem, and after extensive consultation, was sent by the Swiss authorities in July 2000 to all 189 governments for their comments. Optimism was running high by 5 September when a preparatory meeting of states was held in Geneva to consider the reactions to the draft protocol.

October, however, brought problems. The Middle East peace process ran into serious difficulties when violent confrontation erupted between Israelis and Palestinians. On 12 October, the Swiss government decided it could not go ahead with the Diplomatic Conference because there was no real prospect of reaching a consensus. It was postponed to early 2001, as was the 28th International Conference.

The process, however, went on. The revised draft of the protocol was sent out to all states, with the ICRC and Federation pointing to the enormous advance that it represented, particularly agreement on the principle of an additional emblem, and the commitment to a universal Movement. Following a meeting of the Standing Commission on 25 and 26 October, it was also sent to all National Societies with a message about the humanitarian principles embodied in the proposal.

Ian Piper
Ian Piper is a consultant for the ICRC's campaign and marketing unit.

The proposed design for an additional emblem has been sent to states and National Societies along with the draft Protocol III.

Interview with Ambassador Kupfer

Swiss Ambassador
Thomas Kupfer

In order to gain greater insight into these latest developments, Red Cross, Red Crescent interviewed Swiss Ambassador Thomas Kupfer, commissioner of the Diplomatic Conference relating to the emblems.

Why was the conference postponed?
As depositary of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland has been holding in-depth consultations on the issue of the emblems, with the aim of finding a lasting solution based on the widest possible consensus among the States parties. We have had to concede that the conditions favouring the adoption of Additional Protocol III had not been achieved in October 2000 following the sharp deterioration of the political situation in the Middle East - and this view is shared by many states and the Movement. We are therefore pursuing our discussions with the States parties on the basis of what has already been accomplished, that is, on the draft protocol sent to the States parties in October. The issue of the Diplomatic Conference remains on the agenda, and states now have more time at their disposal to review the proposed new protocol than initially foreseen.

What are the future prospects?
We are in a transitional phase. We need to keep a close eye on developments on the international scene so as to be ready to act when circumstances permit. We haven't forgotten that our goal is humanitarian: to ensure better protection in the field and to help the Movement to achieve universality.

Do you already have a date in mind?
Not yet. The discussions under way and still to come should enable us to fix a date.

Is the draft of Additional Protocol III finalized or are there still some problems to resolve before the conference is held?
We have come a long way: numerous legal issues have been clarified during our consultations held to date in close cooperation with the ICRC and the Federation, which are responsible for drafting the text for the Diplomatic Conference.

That being said, what shape the emblem will finally take is still an open question, which will be decided on the basis of the proposal sent to states in October.

In tangible terms, what will be the implications for National Societies if an additional emblem is adopted?
For almost all National Societies, the adoption of this emblem will change nothing in their day-to-day functioning, other than that they will have to make the additional emblem known to their members. However, for the National Societies currently denied admission to the Movement, the adoption of Additional Protocol III will open the door. Moreover, the proposal also provides a long-term solution to future potential problems.

Jean-François Berger

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