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Red crystal emblem: "The Movement has reaffirmed its humanitarian purpose"

22-06-2006 Interview

ICRC chief spokesperson Antonella Notari comments on the outcome of the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross & Red Crescent.

 The Conference adopted a new emblem: the red crystal. What does it mean for the work of the Movement?  

This is a big plus for our universality. National societies that had a problem with using either the red cross or red crescent now have another choice, making the Movement even more inclusive.

In some circumstances, the new emblem may create conditions that allow Movement members to work more safely, given that it has none of the historical baggage or connotations that are sometimes attached to the cross and crescent.

It could also make it easier for some national societies – for example the Magen David Adom – to work abroad, by associating their emblem with the crystal, or simply using the new emblem. Essentially, this decision should help to save more lives and prevent suffering.


 Movement conferences have traditionally sought consensus; this time, it went to a vote. Are you disappointed?  

No, because the result is what counts and this vote was clearly in favour of the change. The Conference – meaning States, national societies, the International Federation and the ICRC – overwhelmingly adopted the change to the statutes that allowed the introduction of the red crystal: 237 delegations voted Yes, 54 voted No, and 18 abstained. So the result was well in excess of the two-thirds majority required, that's to say 194 votes.

In a context that tends to be very political, as well as emotionally charged, this was a victory for the humanitarian viewpoint – and it was the national societies that tipped the balance.

The mood at the end of the day was one of extreme satisfaction, if not jubilation, when the Magen David Adom and the Palestine Red Crescent Society were recognized by the ICRC and admitted to the International Federation.

 These two societies have now become official members of the Movement. What will they contribute?  

Each, in its own way, brings a wealth of expertise that is, sadly, very marked by the context of violence in the region. Each has skilled and dedicated specialists and volunteers, whose experience and expertise could be invaluable to many other societies.

In the spirit of the Movement, the two have forged increasingly closer ties in recent times – there is still work to do in this respect, but the way forward is clear. This is more than rhetoric – stronger operational cooperation between the two societies means smoother working in the field, which in turn could mean more lives saved.

 What will be the rules on using the red crystal emblem?  

There are internationally binding rules for the use of the emblem: the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols govern its protective use (in conflict situations), while the indicative – or " brand " use – is laid down in Movement regulations.

The protective use of the red crystal will be the same as for the cross or crescent. However, for indicative use, national societies will be able to use their own emblem – provided it is already in general use – within the crystal. No one is obliged to change the emblem they use; the choice between the three is in any c ase up to each State, in accordance with international humanitarian law.

What is vital, though, is to make the red crystal – and what it stands for – as widely known and respected as possible, and this is primarily the responsibility of States.

 What is there to prevent the emblem issue arising again, with a demand for yet another protective sign?  

It should not. This vote means that the Movement and the States have adopted an emblem designed to respond to the perceptions and realities of today's world; many of the States that agreed to it did not even exist as such in 1863, 1929 or 1949, when the existing treaties governing the emblem were adopted.

Also, the red crystal has none of the religious or cultural connotations that – very regrettably – have become associated in some people's minds with the cross and crescent.

There are some who are not happy with the outcome, and we respect their point of view. But we consider that, despite the controversies, the Movement has reaffirmed its humanitarian purpose and rallied round a universal ideal.

Read more on the new emblem  Conference Resolution 1 in full