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International Committee of the Red Cross set to accept new symbol

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 22 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:654
  1. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
  1. Jerusalem

    The International Committee of the Red Cross has announced that it is intending to change its rules to allow national first aid societies to use a new symbol—that of a “crystal”—in the place of a cross or a crescent if they object to these existing symbols.

    The organisation's decision comes in response to sustained pressure from Israel's national first aid and ambulance organisation, Magen David Adom, which has been campaigning for a change for 50 years and which now looks likely to achieve membership of the movement.

    The Magen David Adom organisation, whose name means “red star of David” and which also provides blood services, has been excluded from membership on the grounds that it has not been prepared to use either the cross or crescent symbols. The Israeli government and the organisation itself have claimed that the real reason has been opposition to its membership from Muslim and Arab countries.

    Now representatives from two thirds of the 123 countries that attended a meeting in Geneva last week have told the Swiss government that they approve the addition of a third emblem alongside the red cross and red crescent. Although the new emblem strongly resembles a diamond shape, it is going to be known as a crystal, because the diamond symbol has adverse connotations, recalling memories of the diamond slave trade in Africa.

    The red crystal, which is a square shaped frame standing on one corner on a white background, must be approved by a two thirds vote at a diplomatic conference in Geneva, which is being held before the end of 2005 and to which representatives of all 192 member states will be invited. After the protocol in the Geneva Conventions has been amended to include the new emblem, the national societies will then automatically ratify it.

    The additional emblem would be “free of any perception of religious, political, or other connotation,” the International Committee of the Red Cross announced. It would “enable national societies that have not been able to use the existing emblems to become full members.”

    Although the inclusion of Israel's national society is the prime motivation behind the change, Eritrea, which also rejects use of the two official emblems, will benefit as well.

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