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The Emblem

31-12-2001 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 844, by Christina Magnuson

Council of Delegates, 11-14 November 2001, Statement by Christina Magnuson, co-chair, Joint Working Group on the Emblem

Two years ago, the Council took an historic decision for the future of our Movement by mandating the Standing Commission to set up a joint working group, composed of representatives of both States and the Movement, responsible for finding a comprehensive and lasting solution to the question of the emblem.

The working group has submitted its report to you and, as the group’s co-chair, I should like to thank everyone who has taken an active and creative part in its work.

In terms of both procedure and substance, the working group’s proposal is capable of achieving our objective, which is to allow the recognition and admission into our Movement of National Societies that have difficulty in using the existing emblems.

The proposed adoption of a protocol to the Geneva Con-entions providing for an additional emblem devoid of any political, cultural or religious connotations will meet the requirements of those National Societies, while preventing a proliferation of emblems that would detract from their protective value.

Having submitted this overall proposal, the working group has fulfilled its mandate. Indeed, no one could criticize the group for not having foreseen that serious events in the Middle East would prevent completion of the process intended to culminate in a diplomatic conference in Geneva on 25 October 2000.

The postponing of the conference places us in the paradoxical position of having finally found a solution without being able to implement it, in the absence of ratification by the States. Should we conclude that this sends us back to square one? Is this another failure? Not at all. And there are several reasons why not.

  • First, a majority of the governments with which we have been in close contact while working on the draft additional protocol agree that our objective would have been achieved last year had it not been for the events in the Middle East. The postponing of the diplomatic conference calls into question neither the validity of the draft protocol, whose content has received wide support from the community of States, nor the relevance of the process initiated. If we are to resolve the emblem issue, there is currently no alternative to the proposed Protocol III.

  • Second, the process has allowed us to get this matter onto the diplomatic agenda of the international community. The depositary State has sent each government a copy of the draft protocld therefore respond to pressing operational imperatives. We would gain an additional instrument, one that we desperately need so that we can act more effectively in such situations.

In this Council I do not need to remind you of our responsibilities of disseminating the distinction between the two aspects of our emblems: the indicative and the protective aspects. But the continuous lack of knowledge and misunderstandings of this most important element of our uniqueness as humanitarian organisations force us to, again and again, explain to our partners and indeed to everybody outside our movement, the difference between the two.

These considerations strengthen my conviction that we must continue on our present path. The horrific events of September 11 and their tragic consequences which we are seeing unfold every day before our eyes — in particular the threat of polarization between nations and peoples — serve to confirm my belief that our Movement and the international community as a whole more than ever need a comprehensive and lasting solution to the emblem issue , that is, the adoption of an additional emblem free of any political, cultural or religious connotation.We must therefore move forward with determination, building on the very substantial progress already achieved. And we must take the two types of action indicated by the Standing Commission in the draft resolution submitted for your approval.

The first is to demonstrate strongly and with one voice, support for the draft additional protocol, to act as its advocates in our contacts with governments and to remind them that this an issue of the greatest significance for the future of our Movement, its credibility and the effectiveness of its work. By adopting this common approach, we will help maintain the momentum of the process and we will prepare States to react immediately to a renewed invitation to a diplomatic conference. While it is true that the situation in the Middle East dictates caution, as resumption of the diplomatic process is still held hostage by the tragic events that started in September 2000, it is also true that in their efforts to find a solution to the emblem question the components of the Movement must not align their positions with those taken by governments in reaction to these very serious developments. The emblem issue must not be allowed to stir up emotion if our emblems are to remain the symbols of humanity, neutrality, solidarity and peace in the midst of conflict.

The second type of action involves our Movement itself. Until the new protocol has been ratified we should, without departing from our Statutes, take concrete measures to establish and develop closer and more brotherly relations with those National Societies which, for reasons related to the emblem, or for other reasons, cannot today become the full members of our Movement we would wish them to be. We must invite them to work with us in the field, we must consult them, share our concerns with them, help them to develop, and support their activities.

In this spirit, we say to our friends the Eritrean, Israeli, Kazakh and Palestinian societies: we know you share our ideals, we have seen the commitment of your volunteers. We are happy to see you among us in this Council of Delegates.