ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Annex I (to Protocol Additional I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949) : Regulations concerning identification, 6 June 1977
International special sign
[p.1295] Annex I, Chapter VI -- Works and installations containing
Annex I, Article 16
-- International special sign
[p.1296] General remarks
4321 The works and installations containing dangerous forces described in Article 56
' (Protection of works and installations containing
dangerous forces), ' paragraph 1, of the Protocol may be marked with
the international special sign in order to facilitate their
4322 The special sign is defined in paragraph 7 of the above-mentioned article. The expression "special sign" is used in that article,
whereas Article 16
of Annex I refers to the "international special
4323 At the second session Committee III, which was responsible for studying the ICRC draft text relating to the protection of works and
installations containing dangerous forces (Article 49 of the draft),
adopted a text which did not describe the special sign. At the fourth
session a Sub-Working Group was established by the Working Group of
Committee III to make recommendations concerning this sign. (2)
4324 Committee III adopted by consensus the sign proposed in the Sub-Working Group's report, leaving the Drafting Committee to decide
where the article relating to the sign should be placed in Annex I.
The final text of the existing Article 16
was prepared by the
Drafting Committee, which retained the title proposed by the
Sub-Working Group, namely, "International special sign". (3)
4325 In some countries, national signs and notices in the national language are used to mark works and installations containing
dangerous forces of all types. International signs have also been
devised to mark certain works from which dangerous forces such as,
for example, radioactive matter might be released. The International
Atomic Energy Agency has established international sign enabling
radioactive matter to be identified.
[p.1297] 4326 It was therefore necessary to have a specific international sign which could be used to mark the works and installations described in
' (Protection of works and installations containing
dangerous forces), ' paragraph 1, of the Protocol, since such works
and installations enjoy special protection.
4327 Geometrically, the sign described in this paragraph is easy to make and calls for no particular comment. It is perhaps less easy to
make advance arrangement for adequate supplies of the materials
required to mark a nuclear power station or the walls of a dyke or
hydroelectric dam with three large circles. The amount of bright
orange paint or self-adhesive material required to block out circles
several metres in diameter raises a problem of supplies and stocks
which will have to be solved at the same time as the difficulties
involved in affixing the sign to a rough concrete surface or the
causeway of a dyke. It would be simpler to use sheets of bright
orange fabric or plastic. In any event, many problems in respect of
resistance to bad weather, heat, cold, wind and air pollution will
have to be overcome in order to ensure the sign's durability.
4328 The trichromatic co-ordinates of the bright orange colour were not defined by the Working Group. Nevertheless, it would be useful
for such a definition to be worked out and inserted for information
in Annex I when the latter is revised.
4329 The sign must be clearly visible from an aircraft flying either towards the ground or horizontally. The visibility tests carried out
on the red cross as seen from the air and described earlier in the
introduction to Chapter II ' (The distinctive emblem) ' of Annex I
provide useful comparative data. (4) As to the sign's visibility, the
commentary on Articles 3
' (Shape and nature) ' and 4
' (Use) ' (5)
of Annex I also holds good for the international special sign.
4330 If necessary, flags of different shapes or sizes may be prepared in advance with a view to marking dykes, dams or nuclear power
plants. Masts, cables or panels may also be installed in advance so
that the flags may be displayed rapidly as and when required. They
may be lighted at night or when visibility is poor. It is important
to check that a flag is clearly visible against the backdrop of the
4331 As a comparison, the ICRC in some areas of armed conflict uses 10 x 10 m white flags bearing a red cross, displayed either vertically
against the wall of a building or horizontally on the roof.
[p.1298] Paragraph 4
4332 The remarks made in respect of the lighting or illumination of the distinctive emblem in the commentary on Article 3
' (Shape and
nature), ' paragraph 2, (6) of Annex I apply also to the
international special sign. The colour contrast of the three bright
orange circles under infrared observation could not be checked.
4333 Since bright orange and white have very similar rates of reflection under infrared observation, very little colour contrast
would be produced by placing the three circles on a pale ground such
as, for example, concrete walls.
4334 Data obtained by the ICRC on sets of measurements of radiation in the near infrared region (frequency 1,200 nm) showed that the
reflectivity of both white and bright orange is about 65%. Steps
should therefore be taken to ensure that the reflectivity of the
ground against which the three bright orange circles are placed, or
at least the area round their circumference, is as low as possible,
so that the geometric design of the international special sign stands
out by contrast.
4335 Further studies and tests should be conducted on the colour contrast produced by bright orange on different grounds under
infrared observation, in order to provide the additional data
required for the sign to be made visible to infrared detection,
particularly in aerial photography.
' Ph. E. '
NOTES (1) [(1) p.1296] Cf. commentary Art. 56 of the Protocol, supra, p. 665;
(2) [(2) p.1296] O.R. XV p. 456, CDDH/407/Rev.1, para. 31;
(3) [(3) p.1296] Ibid., pp. 471-473, CDDH/407/Rev.1, Annex I;p. 486 (Art. 49); p. 497, Annex;
(4) [(4) p.1297] Cf. introduction to Chapter II, Annex I, supra, p. 1167;
(5) [(5) p.1297] Supra, pp. 1173 and 1179;
(6) [(6) p.1298] Supra, p. 1173;