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
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
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
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.