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International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Last modified: 2002-07-27 by rob raeside
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[Flag of IFRCRC]
by António Martins, 5 March 1999

See also:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies does indeed use a similar flag from time to time, as I have seen it around here, mainly on trucks carrying humanitarian help. However, there is never the red border around it. More often a full logo of the organization is used on a white bedsheet - the red crescent and cross in the middle of two black concentric circles, between which is written the name of the organization.

On the headquarters of the organization here in Zagreb the two more usual flags (Red Cross flag and Red Crescent flag) are hoisted permanently.
Zeljko Heimer, 8 January 1999

The ICRC website explains:
The International Movement of the Red Cross is composed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Ole Andersen, 1 April 2003

The ICRC is exclusively Swiss (thereby giving the whole Red Cross Movement its neutrality), while the IFRC is made up of societies from 188 nations and territories. The ICRC is concerned with upholding the Geneva Convention in times of war, and to render aid in war zones, while the IFRC has a broader scope, including natural disasters relief, aiding refugees, and blood collection.
Miles Li, 1 April 2003

History of the Emblem

From the document "History of the Emblem" (formerly posted on the ICRC website), dated 1 November 1994:
1864 - The first-ever Geneva Convention was adopted: the red cross on a white ground was officially recognized as the distinctive sign of the medical services of armed forces.

1876 - During the Russo-Turkish war, fought in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire decided to use a red crescent on a white ground in place of the red cross. Egypt also opted for the red crescent and Persia subsequently chose a red lion and sun on a white ground. These States made reservations to the Conventions, and their exceptional signs were then written into the 1929 Conventions.

1949 - Article 38 of the First Geneva Convention of 1949 confirmed the emblems of the red cross, the red crescent and the red lion and sun on a white ground as the protective signs for army medical services. It thus excluded the use of any exceptional sign other than the red crescent and the red lion and sun.

1980 - The Islamic Republic of Iran decided to give up the red lion and sun and use the red crescent in its place.

1982 - The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies adopted as its emblem the red cross and red crescent on a white ground.

So the Red Sun & Lion *were* evidently official; but for further clarification regarding Magen David Adom, I quote this from the document "The Red Cross and Red Crescent Emblems," dated 1 September 1989:
The emblem of the red shield of David is covered in a reservation whose validity has been challenged by a number of authors. Without embarking on a lengthy analysis of a controversial technical legal point, we hold the view that opponents of the State of Israel are bound to respect Israeli medical personnel and equipment on the field of battle.

In any event, the protective emblem is not constitutive of protection under the Convention; it is merely the visible sign thereof. Members of the medical service shall command respect by virtue of their relief mission, and not because they are indicated by any given distinctive sign.

On the other hand, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been unable formally to recognize the Israeli Red Shield of David Society (Magen David Adom), with which it has maintained excellent working relations for over forty years, owing to the fact that the Society does not fulfil one of the conditions for recognition of new National Societies laid down by the Seventeenth International Conference of the Red Cross in Stockholm in 1948 and confirmed by the Twenty-fifth Conference in Geneva in 1986, to the effect that the applicant Society, to be entitled to recognition, must "use the name and emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva Conventions". For the same reason, the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies could not admit the Israeli relief society.

Incidentally, there was a reference to a petition from India in 1977, requesting the acceptance of still another symbol (which was not identified). This request was also denied.

Alvin Heims, 1 December 1999

Russian Red Cross and Red Crescent

[Flag of Russian Red Cross and Red Crescent]
by Alvin Heims, 2 December 1999

Pedersen (1970) shows a 2:3 white flag with a red cross and crescent (poiting towards hoist). Label is "Russian Red Cross" and caption: "Because of the Moslems among the peoples of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Red Cross combines both symbols in its flag." Proper label would of course better be "Soviet Red Cross and Crescent".
Ivan Sache, 30 November 1999

Other Relief Societies

Francois Bugnion, in The Emblem of the Red Cross: A brief history, Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1977, p. 65, presented a number of other suggestions and proposals:
  • Afghanistan: Red Archway (emblem from the flag), application for recognition filed in 1935, but rejected.
  • Congo: Red Lamb, one of several rival societies that emerged after the independence of Congo (later Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo), active in 1963 and 1964.
  • India: Red wheel, discussed in the Indian Red Cross society after in the time after independence, but abandoned.
  • Japan: red sun and red strip, emblem of Hakuaisha society, founded 1877 and equivalent of a national red cross society, society changed name to the Red Cross and adopted the red cross emblem in 1866.
  • Lebanon: Red cedar, suggestion only given attention in "preliminary discussions" in the post-war years.
  • Sudan: red rhinoceros, suggested as a common emblem for the new Sudanese society which united the previous branches of the Red Crescent Society of Egypt and the British Red Cross. In the end, the Sudanese society chose the red crescent.
  • Syria: Red palm, suggested after World War II, as a common "koranic and biblical emblem." The suggestion was rejected.
  • Thailand: Red cross and flame. Emblem of the Sabha Unalome Deng relief society founded in 1893, a combination of Buddhist emblems with the traditional red cross. Recognition for emblem sought in 1899 and 1906, but rejected. Thai society adopted red cross in 1906.
Jan Oskar Engene, 2 December 1999

1949 Geneva Convention

The following summarizes the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions that govern the use of the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and Red Lion and Sun flags. Geneva I governs land warfare, Geneva II governs warfare at sea. There are also Geneva III and IV, but they have no provisos concerning flags:

Geneva I, Art. 38, provides for use of the Swiss federal arms in reversed colors, the red cross on a white ground, as the emblem and distinctive sign of the Medical Service of armed forces. [This was originally provided for in article VII of the first Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, signed on August 22, 1864.] The red crescent or red lion and sun, in lieu of the red cross, will be recognized for use by countries that were already using those devices when the 1949 convention was adopted.

Geneva I, Art. 39, requires the emblem (red cross, etc.) to be displayed on the flags, armlets and on all equipment employed in the Medical Service. The same provision is also contained in Geneva II, Art. 41.

Geneva I, Art. 42, limits the display of "the distinctive flag of the Convention" to medical units and establishments entitled to be respected under the Convention and permits it to be displayed in conjunction with the national flag of the party to which the unit or establishment belongs. [The 1864 convention required it to be displayed with the national flag.] When medical units fall into the hands of the enemy, they display only the flag of the Convention.

Geneva I, Art. 43, requires medical units of neutral countries "which may have been authorized to lend their services to a belligerent" to fly the flag of the Convention and the national flag of the belligerent to which they have been lent, and permits them to fly their own national flag as well. Such neutral medical units may continue to fly their own national flags even if they are captured.

Geneva I, Art. 44, bans all uses of the Red Cross or equivalent emblems (including flags) other than to indicate or protect medical units and establishments and related personnel and material under the Geneva Conventions, except that national Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies may use the emblems in peacetime for other activities in conformity with the principles of the Red Cross movement. In wartime, they may use the emblems for their other activities only if they are clearly not implying the protection of the convention. International Red Cross organizations (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross) may use the Red Cross emblem at all times.

Geneva II, Art 43 requires hospital ships to "make themselves known by hoisting their national flag and further, if they belong to a neutral state, the flag of the Party to the conflict whose direction they have accepted. A white flag with a red cross shall be flown at the mainmast as high as possible." Hospital ships that are provisionally detained by the enemy haul down their national colors. Coastal lifeboats operating from a base occupied by the enemy may continue to fly their own national colours along with the Red Cross flag.

Geneva II, Art 44, limits the use of the distinguishing signs, including the flag, to indicating ships and vessels protected by the convention, whether in peace or war (except as otherwise agreed, e.g., by Geneva I).

Joe McMillan, 2 May 2000

The main authority to use the red cross/red crescent symbol is not by any international red cross organization (ICRC or IFRC) or national red cross society but by the parties to the Geneva conventions (or any party to a conflict, since the protocol includes civil wars within its ambit) to designate military medical facilities and units. In fact, in both wartime and peacetime the national red cross societies can use the symbol only with the approval of their governments. The same applies to the other symbols provided for under the conventions and the protocol: decisions on where to display them is the responsibility of the authorities of the governments who signed the convention or of the parties to a conflict.

Joe McMillan, 6 May 2000