International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the umbrella organization of the 186 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which operate in nearly every country around the world. The IFRC Secretariat, which oversees day to day operations, is based in Geneva, with more than 60 support delegations based around the world. The IFRC is comprised of a Secretariat, a General Assembly, a Governing Board and several commissions and advisory bodies. The IFRC's work is often confused with that of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the two groups are closely linked. The ICRC deals exclusively with the effects of armed conflict, whereas the National Societies who are members of the IFRC operate primarily during peacetime, most often in response to natural disasters.
||Keywords: protective emblem, Geneva Conventions, Third Additional Protocol, Magen David Adom, Palestinian Red Crescent Society
The IFRC was founded in Paris in 1919 after World War I demonstrated a need for increased co-ordination between the national Red Cross societies that had been established in various countries and had provided humanitarian assistance during the war. The Federation has since expanded its activities to focus on "promoting humanitarian values, disaster response, disaster preparedness, and health and community care." On a local level, National Societies host blood drives, teach classes on survival skills and stockpiles supplies for use during disasters, ranging from earthquakes to terrorist attacks. During international emergencies, the Federation coordinates and mobilizes relief, promotes cooperation between National Societies and represents its members in the field.
Recent Development: Implications of the Adoption of the Red Crystal Emblem
Although there is no religious connotation to the "red cross," many Muslim countries prefer to have the "red crescent" as the symbol of their national societies, which has been permitted by the IFRC Statutes since 1929. The "red crystal," an emblem devoid of any known political, cultural or religious meaning, was officially adopted for use as an official symbol of the IFRC in 2005, although neither the organization's name nor logo changed. Although the IFRC is a neutral, humanitarian organization, it is perhaps inevitable in the 21st century's highly politicized and sensitive atmosphere that emblems such as the "cross" and the "crescent" would be naturally associated with Christianity and Islam, respectively. Such associations, however false, impeded the work of the IFRC and the National Societies, and at times precluded their operation in various environments. Additionally, some National Societies did not feel comfortable using either the red cross or the red crescent, which excluded them as members of the IFRC.
To address this problem, during the 1990s a concerted effort was made to find an additional emblem which would be neutral enough to appeal to all parties and yet be easily recognizable alongside the cross and the crescent as a symbol of the ICRC and IFRC. After several years of deliberations, the "red crystal" ultimately emerged as the preferred option. The reasons were manifold:
[the term 'red crystal'] is identical in all three of the Movement's working languages and in many other languages; it has no negative connotations in any of the numerous languages tested; in French and in English the initials are the same as for the red cross and red crescent; and lastly, crystals are a symbol of purity and transparency, and they bring to mind water, the source of life.
The red crystal was given legal significance and status under international law through the enactment of the Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, which was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Geneva, Switzerland in December 2005. The Additional Protocol entered into force on 14 January 2007, six months after the first two States Parties to the Geneva Conventions ratified it. As of July 2009, 45 countries have ratified the Third Additional Protocol.
The practical implications of the adoption of the Red Crystal are more significant than they may at first appear. At the very least, the Red Crystal allows the National Societies of countries such as Israel, China and India-whose citizens do not adhere to either Christianity or Islam as their primary religion-to be more comfortable as members of the IFRC, and to participate more fully in the Federation's activities and conferences. But the significance runs deeper than that, especially in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Throughout the years of deliberations leading up to the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol, the humanitarian effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were constantly in the background. Indeed, the intense passions that this conflict engenders in those affected by it threatened to derail the Diplomatic Conference of December 2005. There were numerous behind-the-scenes meetings between representatives of the Magen David Adom (the Israeli National Society) and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, neither of which was a member of the IFRC. In the case of Magen David Adom (MDA), its non-membership was based in large part on the MDA's emblem, which is the Red Shield of David (a red star of David-similar to the blue one found on the Israeli flag-on a white background). This was not one of the symbols sanctioned for official use by 1929 Diplomatic Conference on the issue of the ICRC/IFRC emblems. In the case of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS), the issue of non-membership was an altogether more practical one: "Palestine," as such, is not a state, and IFRC statutes extend membership only to the National Societies of actual countries (i.e. those with defined territory, borders, and a government which has been granted recognition by other states).
The consequences of non-membership meant that cooperation between the MDA and the PRCS, and between these societies and the IFRC, was limited. Furthermore, even in the area of medical care or humanitarian relief, mistrust between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority runs high, with both sides accusing the other of not respecting the protective emblem. Yet for the medics and first responders who worked on behalf of the MDA ad PCRS, the political maneuverings of the Israeli and Arab governments and international organizations were of little concern. Their primary consideration was having the legal authority to respond quickly and effectively to disasters as they occurred, which seems straightforward until you consider the complicated territorial dispute which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For example: assume there is a multi-car accident caused by a freak hailstorm on an Israeli settlement in the West Bank involving both Orthodox Jewish residents and Palestinian day laborers, which results in several casualties. The closest hospital is in Jerusalem. Do PRCS ambulances who respond to the scene have the right to bypass security checkpoints in the West Bank in order to take Palestinian patients to the hospital as quickly as possible? The Palestinians would likely say "yes," as they see Israeli checkpoints as manifestations of an illegal occupation, and claim East Jerusalem for the capital of their future state. The Israelis would likely say "no," as they see the checkpoints as the lowest tier of a complex security structure they've been forced to create because they have been under attack by their neighbors for 60 years, and claim the whole of Jerusalem to be the "undivided and eternal" capital of Israel. Neither interpretation leaves much room for negotiation, nor provides the wounded with the medical care they need.
The adoption of the Third Additional Protocol and inauguration of the Red Crystal as an officially sanctioned emblem provided some very practical solutions to addressing issues such as these. Perhaps most importantly, it gave both the MDA and the PCRS the option of using the red crystal emblem in situations where either use of the red crescent or red shield of David could be considered provocative. In the example above, for instance, if each relief society maintained certain ambulances which were only marked with the red crystal, then responding to incidents in sensitive circumstances would potentially be easier for the attendant medical staff.
However, there were some important legal developments as well. In the years immediately preceding the 2005 Diplomatic Conference, as it became clear that the question of adopting a third emblem was nearing resolution-thus paving the way for induction of National Societies who had thus far been unable to join-the IFRC began extending operational assistance to both the MDA and the PCRS, with the implicit understanding that both Societies would be invited to join as full members. Additionally, the heads of the MDA and PRCS signed a cooperation agreement in November 2005 detailing reciprocal arrangements between the two organizations, which also signaled their joint understanding that both Societies would join the IFRC at the same time. Lastly, there was a formal announcement at the 2005 Diplomatic Conference that the MDA and PRCS would be admitted as members during the next International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. On 22June 2006, at the conclusion of the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the MDA and PRCS were admitted to the Federation by acclamation.
At the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in November 2007, a resolution was adopted which "encourage[d] the MDA and the PRCS to enhance their cooperation to achieve full implementation of the  MOU consistent with the Statutes and all applicable rules and principles of the Movement." The resolution also called for the issue to be followed up at the next International Conference, to take place in 2011. Some progress has been made on implementing the MOU, and the MDA has a section on its website devoted to when and how it will use the new emblem, noting that:
[The] MDA stresses that it will not be relinquishing its existing emblem - the Red Shield of David - which it has used since establishment of the national life-saving society in 1930. MDA workers and volunteers are proud of MDA's emblem and will continue to wear it with pride within Israel. In order to work in humanitarian relief operations outside Israel, MDA, like any other national society must, in accordance with the rules and spirit of the Movement, seek the consent of the host national society. On relief missions abroad, with the consent of the host society, MDA will use the Red Shield of David inside the red crystal or the crystal alone if this would provide better protection for MDA's humanitarian mission.
It is the responsibility of governments to amend their national laws to specify that the red crystal emblem has the same meaning and protected status as the red cross and red crescent within their respective countries. Such amendments will then permit National Societies to use any of the three approved emblems. The United Kingdom became one of the most recent countries to do so in July 2009.
Liberian Law Practicum Fellow, Transnational Law Institute
Washington & Lee University
See IFRC, "Who We Are: Governance," available at http://www.ifrc.org/who/governance/suarez.asp
See: IFRC, "Who We Are: Vision and Mission," available at http://www.ifrc.org/who/index.asp?navid=03_01.
For information on the ICRC, click here.
See: IFRC, "Who We Are: History," available at http://www.ifrc.org/who/history.asp?navid=03_09.
Vision and Mission, supra note 1.
See IFRC "Who We Are: The Emblem Debate," available at: http://www.ifrc.org/who/emblem-general.asp.
"Who We Are: The Emblem Debate," supra note 7.
See FRANÇOIS BUGNION, RED CROSS, RED CRESCENT, RED CRYSTAL, 42-43 (2007) available at http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/p0778.
"Who We Are: The Emblem Debate," supra note 5
See "Red Crystal: the "emblem comes into force" available at http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/emblem-keyfacts-140107.
Information on ratification is available at http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebSign?ReadForm&id=615&ps=P.
See BUGNION, supra note 10, at 48 - 55.
See "About the Adoption of an Additional Emblem: Questions and Answers," available at http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/emblem-questions-answers-281005
See, for example: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Law/Legal+Issues+and+Rulings/Palestinian+Misuse+of+Medical+Services+and+Ambulances+for+Terrorist+Activities+13-Oct-2004.htm or http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1231774446417.
See BUGNION, supra note 10, at 46-47.
Id. at 50-51.
Id. at 55.
Id. at 64.
See 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Follow-up of the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding of 28 November 2005 between the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magem David Adom in Israel IFCR Doc. 30IC/07/R5, available at http://www.ifrc.org/Docs/pubs/events/intconf07/adopted/resolution5-en.pdf.
See Magen David Adom welcomes adoption of additional emblem, available at http://www.mdais.org/e/343/.
Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Act (2009 c.6) available at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2009a.
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