Switzerland says it is hopeful that a solution can be found to the problem of a third Red Cross emblem before a Diplomatic Conference, scheduled for next month. But it warned that a great deal of work still lies ahead.
Two days of consultations, hosted by Switzerland in Geneva, ended without any apparent breakthrough on the issue. Resolution of the problem would pave the way for the admission of Israel into the Red Cross fold.
"No country has closed the door to the adoption of a third emblem," said the Swiss ambassador, Nicolas Michel, who chaired the consultations.
"The general debate was calm, constructive and positive," he told swissinfo.
However, he said there had been a "strong message" from the Arab world that more time was needed and that it wanted the Diplomatic Conference, due to be held on October 25 and 26, to be delayed.
Michel said that Switzerland, the depository country of the Geneva Conventions, would have to call the conference within the next 14 days the conference were to go ahead on schedule.
"Switzerland is very committed to the process, so we will intensify our consultations with all the interested states so that the International Committee of the Red Cross is in a position to produce a new draft protocol," the Swiss diplomat said.
He said there was a consensus on the process towards adopting a third neutral emblem, but said there was still disagreement on the proposed symbol - a double chevron in the form of a diamond, inside which national societies would be able to place their own symbol.
"There is a consensus on the process and it was agreed that this process should lead to the adoption of a third protocol. The states have shown themselves to be very willing to cooperate in a constructive spirit, even though some have different views. Obviously one of the issues still pending is the name and the shape of the emblem."
He added that delegates had recognised that this was a humanitarian process and not a political process.
An early proposal of a Red Diamond was rejected by Israel, which has been pushing for the Star of David to be recognised as an emblem in its own right, alongside the cross and the crescent.
Any new emblem would require an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, which would have to be passed at a special international conference. A series of consultations were held in April and June in the hope of finding a solution before a conference is called.
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 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.
"The emblem is a symbol of neutrality," said Francois Bugnion, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's legal department. "It reflects the protection due to the medical services of the armed forces in time of war, due to victims of war."
At the same time, the Red Cross recognises that some countries are being excluded from its family because they can 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 Red Cross is upset that the emblem issue has been used by some countries, especially the United States, for political purposes. It has been trying to emphasise that, for the movement, the Cross and the Crescent are not religious, but humanitarian symbols.
"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, under-secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says.
"And in those situations, to have a third emblem might mean having better protection for Red Cross workers."
If the third protocol is approved by the diplomatic conference of the 188 nations that are parties to the Geneva Conventions, it would then have to passed by a meeting in November of the 176 national societies that belong to the federation.
by Roy Probert
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