Back to Magazine

A landmark for the Movement
The red Crystal conference

It wasn’t visible anywhere in the huge auditorium, but the 1,576 delegates attending the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent on 20–21 June 2006 knew they were in Geneva to recognize the existence of a new emblem, the red crystal.

FOLLOWING the diplomatic conference of December 2005, which had adopted a Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions creating the red crystal, the Statutes of the Movement had to be updated.

Unlike the regular four-yearly conferences, the 29th conference was brief, just two days, and had a simple objective: to adopt a single resolution. The only other items on the agenda were two reports. The first by the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, responsible for organizing the conference, on the follow-up to the 28th conference. The second report was by the Swiss government on the operation of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in November 2005 between the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Magen David Adom (MDA).

The debate on both reports provided an opportunity for delegates to raise a variety of issues not directly related to the content of the draft resolution.

The conference was well attended with 178 of the 183 National Societies present and 148 of the 193 states party to the Geneva Conventions.

Clear lead from the chair

The conference was chaired by Dr Mohammed Al-Hadid, chairman of the Standing Commission and president of the Jordan National Red Crescent Society. He made it clear that he wanted to see consensus on the draft resolution but given the politically charged atmosphere of the December 2005 diplomatic conference, he felt it important to remind delegates that an international conference was different.

The rules of procedure governing debate are uncompromising. In particular, all participants must respect the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The chairman must also ensure that “none of the speakers at any time engages in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature”.

In the event, the chairman’s role proved to be crucial as delegates from the states sometimes found it difficult to put politics aside. Dr Al-Hadid had the support of the overwhelming majority of National Society delegates, the ICRC and the International Federation, when he insisted that humanitarian priorities should come before political considerations.

Three aims of the draft resolution

The first and essential part of the draft resolution changed the Statutes of the Movement to include the red crystal, most importantly in article 4 containing the ten conditions for recognition of National Societies. This would allow recognition of the MDA.

The second part of the draft resolution called for the formal adoption of the name ‘red crystal’.

The third part requested the ICRC to recognize and the International Federation to admit the PRCS. The problem for the PRCS was the statehood requirement in the ten conditions for recognition in the Statutes. The ICRC had no power to waive that condition. But the conference, as master of the Statutes, could make an exception, although it was made very clear that this should not be seen as a precedent for unrecognized societies in other parts of the world.

The reason for including the PRCS was its unique humanitarian and operational situation. It has a memorandum of understanding with the MDA and both Societies work together in a very difficult context. Equal status within the region would increase their effectiveness, strengthen public support and benefit the people they work to help.

Recognition also means they both have the same responsibilities and obligations to the Movement as other National Societies.

It was clear quite early in the conference that consensus might be difficult to achieve. Dr Al-Hadid decided to call on the experience of a vice-chairman, Ambassador Wegger Strommen of Norway, to negotiate an agreement.

In the end consensus was not achieved, although it had come close. As a result, the chairman proceeded to a vote, firstly on amendments proposed by Pakistan and Tunisia, and then on the resolution itself.

So the moment for decision had come. The atmosphere in the conference centre was expectant, the novelty of an actual vote keeping the delegates alert as the slow voting by roll call dragged the conference into the early hours of 22 June. Even old hands, who had sat through many a Red Cross and Red Crescent conference, had seen nothing like it before. In the event the mood was sober and calm, and the fears of some that a divisive vote would damage the Movement began to fade. A vote, said one, would be decisive not divisive.

And so it proved to be. The amendments were rejected and the draft resolution was adopted by 237 votes to 54 with 18 abstentions. The sense of relief among delegates after the vote was palpable. Statements after the decision were generous and conciliatory. Considerable praise was directed at the chairman, Dr Mohammed Al-Hadid, for his handling of the conference.

But all was not over. As Dr Al-Hadid formally closed the 29th International Conference, he asked delegates to stay for statements by the ICRC and International Federation. Jakob Kellenberger, president of the ICRC, formally announced the recognition of the MDA and the PRCS.

The president of the International Federation, Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, then invited all National Society delegates to reconvene immediately in a resumed General Assembly. Within the hour, the two new National Societies were admitted by acclamation. The principle of universality had taken a further step forward.

Promoting Additional Protocol III

Additional Protocol III (APIII) will enter into force on 14 January 2007. A process of familiarization will now begin to ensure that the changes in the use of the emblems it brings about are more widely understood.

The Protocol provides for temporary use of the red crystal by states and National Societies, and use in exceptional circumstances, to facilitate their work, by the ICRC and the International Federation.

National Societies can also use one of the other emblems inside the red crystal as identification and, for the first time, the red cross and the red crescent can be used together, side by side.

It is too soon to know what impact the red crystal will have on the identity of the Movement and what role it might play as a protective emblem on the battlefield. When will the red crystal be used for the first time as a temporary emblem or in exceptional circumstances? And will it be adopted by states that currently use the red cross or red crescent, or have not decided on any emblem since signing the Geneva Conventions?

These two possibilities are quite distinct. One involves use of the red crystal by a state or component of the Movement “without prejudice to their current emblems” as the Protocol puts it. The other means a decision by a state to adopt the red crystal as the national protective emblem, and its National Society to adopt it as its identification, with or without other emblems within it.

Temporary or exceptional use will only be defined when the red crystal is employed. Adoption, on the other hand, would be a conscious decision for the long term. In the past, a number of National Societies expressed an interest in using the dual emblem, which is now possible under APIII, because it would reflect the cultural realities of their situation better. Whether this is a real option in some regions of the world only time will tell.

For the present, the emblem story, which has fascinated and frustrated so many people in the Movement over the past 15 years, is at a turning point. The chapter that focused on the need for an additional emblem, its function, shape and name, is over. The next chapter in the story, on the impact the red crystal will have on the Movement, has yet to be written.





























Ian Piper
Ian Piper has contributed greatly to the quality and success of Red Cross Red Crescent, first as head of communications at the International Federation and then as ICRC senior editor. We wish him all the best in retirement.



Contact Us