was not an easy birth. Political issues almost overwhelmed
the humanitarian arguments for the creation of an additional
emblem. The hope of agreement by consensus was dashed. But
in the end the vote produced a comfortable majority and Additional
Protocol III became a reality.
The end to the conference was a dramatic climax to what has
been a very long debate among states about the distinctive
emblems used by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The
decision in 1929 to recognize three emblems was meant to be
definitive, but it never was. Over the years, the question
of the emblem re-emerged, most notably in 1949. But there
was never agreement on a solution.
The question came to a head again in the 1990s. In 1992,
the then president of the ICRC, Cornelio Sommaruga, called
publicly for the creation of an additional emblem “devoid
of any religious, political, ethnic or other connotation”.
Subsequently the Standing Commission of t he Red Cross and
Red Crescent took up the issue, and in 1999 at the International
Conference of t he R ed Cross and Red Crescent, governments
and National Societies called for a comprehensive and lasting
solution to the question of the emblem. The solution that
emerged as the most likely to succeed was an additional emblem,
created by a Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.
What happens next?
So the red crystal exists, sitting equally alongside the
red cross and red crescent. But what happens next?
The signing and ratification process for the Protocol will
continue. In the weeks after its adoption, many countries
signed the Protocol, but ratification will take time. The
Protocol enters into force six months after two states have
deposited their instruments of ratification or
accession with the Swiss government.
The next major event will be an International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent on 20-21 June2006 when states,
National Societies, the International Federation and the ICRC
will consider changes in the Movement’s statutes to
reflect the new situation.
The proposed amendments are straightforward. The main changes
would be in article 3 and in article 4 which lists the ten
conditions for recognition of National Societies. Instead
of saying that a society should use “the name and emblem
of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva
Conventions”, it simply says, use “a name and
distinctive emblem in conformity with the Geneva Conventions
and their Additional Protocols”.
This completes the integration of the red crystal into the
Statutes but it also allows the use, by National Societies,
of a double emblem, the red cross and red crescent together
within the red crystal. A number of National Societies have
wanted to do this in the past, but that little word or prevented
it. Additional Protocol III not only creates the red crystal,
it also varies the way states and their National Societies
can use all of the emblems.
A lot of work will need to be done at national and international
levels once the Statutes have been amended. In some countries
there may need to be adjustments to national legislation so
that National Societies can have access to the flexibility
established by t he Protocol. T he ICR C and the International
Federation will support this work with advice, recognizing
that this new situation calls for clarity to ensure that everybody
in the world has the same understanding of the opportunities
An unfamiliar emblem
For many, both inside and outside the Movement, the red
crystal is an unfamiliar design. So when will it become a
reality in the eyes of a wider public?
It all depends on when and where the red crystal begins to
be used. Additional Protocol III permits the ICRC and the
International Federation to make temporary use of it in “exceptional
circumstances”. States and their National Societies
have the option to use it as well. However, it has been made
very clear from the outset of the process that no state or
National Society need change anything because of the adoption
of the Protocol, unless, of course, they want to or decide
that the red crystal should be used for a temporary or emergency
purpose in conditions where their own emblem would not be
perceived as neutral.
It has always been assumed that the red crystal would make
its first appearance in two countries where there were unrecognized
National Societies, Eritrea and Israel. Israel has already
said it would use it, and hopes its society, the Magen David
Adom (MDA), will be recognized by June and subsequently join
the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Both the ICRC and the International Federation want to see
the MDA as a full member of the Movement. They share the view
expressed by many governments at the diplomatic conference
which adopted the Protocol that the Memorandum of Understanding,
signed between the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and
the MDA in November 2005, will pave the way for full membership
for the PRCS as well.
As for the 183 recognized National Societies, they already
use either the red cross or the red crescent. It was one of
the criteria for their recognition. But now there is an alternative
emblem, would any of them consider a change?
A new option
The emblem is an emotive subject for the Movement. National
Societies are strongly attached to their identity, summed
up for most by the use of the red cross or red crescent symbol.
But the red crystal creates a new option that was not there
before — the possibility for a National Society to use
both those emblems and to change its name to incorporate both
‘Red Cross’ and ‘Red Crescent’.
It is impossible to say now whether this ‘double emblem’
option will gain any support among existing recognized National
Societies. A few have expressed interest. It is an important
decision that can only be taken by a National Society on the
basis of its own national law.
However, it is not difficult to imagine the type of country
where the option might have some appeal. While still asserting
the neutral nature of all the emblems, countries that have
very culturally mixed populations might view using both the
red cross and red crescent within the red crystal, by the
National Society, as more appropriate to their particular
situation. Such usage might also broaden the appeal of a National
Society, bringing it additional donors and volunteers.
It is possible that countries with unrecognized National
Societies, such as Eritrea, will opt for the red crystal with
the double emblem within it. However, no decision has yet
Impact on the Movement
It is too early to be certain about this. Perhaps the most
important impact in the short term will be on the universality
of the Movement as new members join. This has been a priority
for both the International Federation and the ICRC during
the many years of the emblem debate. If the MDA, the PRCS
and the Eritrean society can join soon, that will signify
a major step forward for the Movement.
In the longer term, the adoption of the red crystal should
end the danger of proliferation of the emblems and the fear
that such a trend would weaken their essential role: protection
on the battlefield. If that issue is truly behind us, then
the Movement will really have fulfilled the desire of the
27th International Conference to find a comprehensive and
lasting solution to the question of the emblem.