Issue 30: The issue of emblems used to identify National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world

At the end of this summer, a meeting of Government experts will be held in Geneva to discuss the issue of the emblems used to identify National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world.

Analysis: The symbol of the red cross, the inverted flag of Switzerland, was adopted in 1863 as a tribute to Switzerland. The symbol later acquired a religious connotation when some states decided to use a red crescent instead of a red cross.

Currently, a National Society – the humanitarian agency that serves as auxiliary to its country’s military medical services – must choose either the red cross or the red crescent as its emblem in order to be recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross. A state that satisfies the fundamental criteria of the International Committee of the Red Cross – “in times of war [to] act as auxiliaries to the medical services of their countries’ armed forces, and in peacetime [to] carry out humanitarian and social activities,” – will still go unrecognized unless it uses either the cross or the crescent.

However, in some countries the choice of one emblem over the other is extremely problematic. For example, choosing the cross over the crescent may give rise to internal tensions in countries with diverse religious populations, as in the case of Kazakhstan, which uses both emblems concurrently and is therefore denied recognition by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Also, the choice of either the cross or the crescent may compromise the identity of a state as in the case of Israel, which has been using the red shield of David as its emblem since 1930, and is also denied recognition.

In an attempt to address the emblem issue, the basic proposal for consideration at the Experts’ meeting is the introduction of a new emblem free of religious connotation, such as a red diamond, with the possible discreet inclusion of a secondary emblem such as a crescent, cross, or shield of David.

This is a constructive idea that could produce a viable solution. However, various factors, including the criterion that “any solution on this crucial matter must be adopted by consensus,” may prevent a quick resolution to the very important emblem issue.

UN Watch