Issue 34: The upcoming quadrennial International Conference of the Red Cross Movement

While Telecom ’99 fever consumes Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), also based here, is gearing up for its quadrennial International Conference. This conference, to be held at the end of the month, reunites the ICRC, the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with all its National Societies representing 175 countries, and all States party to the Geneva Conventions.

Analysis: Several countries’ de facto National Societies remain unrecognized by the ICRC because they fly neither the Cross nor the Crescent as their emblem, one of the ten criteria for recognition of a National Society by the ICRC. Kazakhstan, to respect its diverse religious population, flies both the cross and the crescent concurrently, and is therefore denied recognition. Israel, also denied recognition, flies a red Shield of David as its emblem as use of either a cross or crescent may compromise its national identity.

The emblem issue has been on and off the ICRC’s agenda since 1929. Most recently, it has been under active discussion since 1995. On the face of things, such a lapse of time could suggest either inefficiency or stalling tactics reflecting an aversion to change. But in the case of Israel’s national society it is important that the issue be resolved in a matter satisfactory to all parties, even if this means continuing an already protracted process.

To resolve the issue quickly, the ICRC can in theory waive the emblem criteria for admission. But, a) such action could be interpreted as a political act – something the ICRC strenuously tries to avoid; b) countries profiting from the emblem waiver could be subjected to political backlash from other states; and c) the waiver, a break in rules, could open a Pandora’s box where rules and regulations, ultimately concerning the protection of soldiers and civilians in times of war, may erode.

This is not to say that we do not advocate the recognition of these benevolent societies. On the contrary, UN Watch meets regularly with representatives of the ICRC to push for a resolution of the problem. For, it is unjust that a national society such as Israel’s, which serves the international community in times of disaster with distinction, should not be afforded the recognition it deserves. In a world climate where pluralism, tolerance and diversity are celebrated, it is a terrible shame that this organization is shunned because it is little able to adopt a cross or crescent as its emblem.

UN Watch