Today we celebrate the first World Red Cross and Red Crescent day of this century, a day chosen because it was the birthday of one of our founders, Henry Dunant. We have come a long way since the days of Solferino. The existence of National Societies in 176 countries across the globe is a remarkable achievement for an idea bred in despair on the battlefield, but which has brought hope and assistance since then to millions.
The twentieth century ended with a successful 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. We made commitments then, both individually through our pledges, and together in the Declaration and the Plan of Action . We take this opportunity to remind ourselves of the need to deliver on those commitments.
The conference also adopted a resolution on the emblems. It aimed to solve two problems. The lack of respect for the neutrality of the existing emblems in certain conflicts, and the exclusion of some societies which have problems using either the red cross or the red crescent.
The resolution called for a speedy and comprehensive solution, acceptable to all. We have acted quickly. A joint working group of states and the Movement has already met. It reached broad agreement on what needed to be done: an additional emblem established through a new protocol to the Geneva Conventions. To achieve this the Standing Commission will consider in the coming days the idea of a diplomatic conference of states this October, followed by an International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November.
The solution envisaged by the joint working group on the emblem set up by the Standing Commission would provide a new protective emblem in those situations where local perceptions have created difficulties using the red cross or the red crescent. Fortunately, in most parts of the world, the neutral nature of our existing emblems is not in question and National Societies in those situations will continue to use the red cross or the red crescent. The new proposal would deal with those situations where this is not the case.
A new emblem will also solve a number of membership issues. Some societies, most notably those in Israel and Kazakhstan, have not felt able to use the emblems currently defined in the Geneva Conventions and the statutes. There could be others in the future which face such a problem. This challenges our principle of universality, and it is time to resolve it. The additional emblem is a fair and legal solution to this issue, one that is Movement based. It will allow us to complete our global network by including all those who otherwise do not qualify to join.
There are still many detailed issues to be resolved in creating an additional emblem, but we are convinced that we have found a way forward for all the Movement. We have an opportunity to make the Movement truly inclusive and ensure that the emblems continue to provide protection and save lives. Both are aspirations which have driven us in the past and which we in the Red Cross and Red Crescent of today should recognize and fully support.
Dr Astrid N. Heiberg
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
International Committee of the Red Cross
Geneva, 8 May 2000
Ref. LG 2000-056-ENG