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Red Cross paves way for third emblem

The Red Cross movement has moved a step closer to resolving one of its thorniest problems - that of its emblems. A special working group has proposed that a third symbol, probably a red diamond (pictured right), be introduced.

The Red Cross movement has moved a step closer to resolving one of its thorniest problems - that of its emblems. A special working group has proposed that a third symbol, probably a red diamond, be introduced, which could pave the way for Israel to be welcomed into the Red Cross fold.

"This is a just a first step, but it's an important first step," said Stephen Davey, Under Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and a member of the working group.

Israel's humanitarian organisation, the Red Star of David, or Magen David Adom, has for over half a century been denied full membership because its emblem is not allowed under the Geneva Conventions. The Red Cross movement has frequently voiced concern that allowing the Red Shield of David symbol would lead to a proliferation of emblems, which could weaken the protective value of the cross and the crescent in the world's trouble spots.

But at the same time, it realised that some countries were being excluded from its family because they could accept neither the Cross nor the Crescent. As well as Israel, these include Kazakhstan, which wants to use the Red Cross and Red Crescent alongside one another.

The working group, which included 16 governments, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, gave its backing to the introduction of a third emblem. Within the latter, a national society could place its own logo - in the case of Magen David Adom, the Red Shield of David.

The proposal now needs to go through a consultation process, during which those countries and national societies not involved in the working group can have their say. After that, the Geneva Conventions will have to be amended, almost certainly by the addition of a third protocol. This would require an international conference, which the Red Cross hopes can be held before the end of the year.

The new conventions would allow the use of the third emblem and permit national societies that don't recognise the Cross and the Crescent to be admitted as members of the Federation.

"Obviously some countries have very strong feelings about this issue," Davey says. " My concern is that during the consultation period, we focus on the opportunity to achieve a solution that meets the needs not only of Magen David Adom, but also of the Kazakh Red Crescent and Red Cross Society -- and any other societies which might in future prefer to use the red diamond."

The Red Cross is upset that some countries, like the United States, have used the emblem issue for political purposes. But it is confident that the outcome of the working groups reflects a desire to resolve the issue.

"If the past two days is anything to go by, we won't have too many problems, " ICRC spokesman Urs Boegli told Swiss Radio International. "There is a realisation that this is not a political problem, but an overdue humanitarian issue."

The Red Cross movement decided it needed to tackle the emblem issue because it was failing in its goal of being accessible to everyone on the planet. The aim of the changes is not to clear up a political embarrassment, but to save lives.

"There are situations in which the parties to a conflict do not recognise the neutrality of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent," Stephen Davey says. "And in those situations, to have a third emblem might mean having better protection for Red Cross workers. "

By Roy Probert

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