Geneva meeting to end Red Cross emblem row

A third emblem could soon be added to the red crescent and the red cross Keystone

Switzerland is to host a diplomatic conference next month aimed at approving a third emblem for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

This content was published on November 7, 2005 - 21:50

The proposal has been widely welcomed, including by Israel which has been denied full membership for more than 50 years.

The long-standing controversy focuses on the symbol the Israeli first aid society – Magen David Adom – could use to identify itself for humanitarian missions in armed conflicts.

The Israeli authorities reject the red cross used in most countries and the red crescent preferred by Muslim countries.

The Swiss foreign ministry announced on Monday that the 192 signatory countries to the Geneva Conventions - a set of international humanitarian laws - are being invited to attend the meeting.

It is to take place in the Swiss city of Geneva on December 5-6.


The conference is to discuss the recognition of a new first aid symbol, a square standing on one corner, representing a red crystal.

"The proposed emblem is devoid of any national, religious and cultural connotation and will be available for use by those national societies which do not wish to use any of the existing emblems," a foreign ministry statement said.

The latest proposal envisages that the Israeli society would be allowed to put its Red Star of David in the centre of the crystal for descriptive purposes.

Other countries would also have a choice among three emblems: Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal.

Positive reaction

The Israeli authorities have thanked Switzerland, the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, for offering to host the conference.

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva described the integration of the Red Star of David as a step towards normalising Israel's position on the international stage.

Palestinian officials said they approved of the Swiss proposal and the new emblem but criticised the continuing human rights violations in Israel's occupied territories.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which includes the national first aid societies and the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), also welcomed the conference.

"The additional emblem would provide an additional protective device for the medical services of armed forces and Red Cross and Red Crescent humanitarian workers," a statement said.

Swiss mediation

Monday's announcements come after a tour of the Middle East last week by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

It is the latest in a series of attempts by Switzerland to organise a conference to resolve the contentious issue of a new symbol for the Geneva-based organisations.

The last major bid to include Israel was five years ago, but it failed because of increased Arab-Israeli tension.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Red Cross emblem was officially approved in Geneva in 1864, a year after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded.

The emblem, endorsed by the 16 signatories of the Geneva Conventions on international humanitarian law, is based on the Swiss flag with colours reversed.

The Red Crescent emblem was first used by ICRC volunteers during the armed conflict between Russia and Turkey (1876-1878).

The symbol was officially adopted in 1929, and so far 25 Islamic states have recognised it.

Israel has called for the use of the Red Star of David emblem since 1949, but the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement does not officially recognise the Israeli first-aid society, Magen David Adom.

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