accessibility & help

Parliament considers increased protection for humanitarian workers

15 April 2009

Flag of red crystal emblemTill Meyer (ICRC)The British Red Cross has warmly welcomed the support of the House of Commons as legislation enabling the use of the protective red crystal emblem continues its passage through Parliament.The Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill, which includes provisions for use of the red crystal emblem, had its second reading in the Commons on 1 April.

Under the legislation, the medical services of the British armed forces would be able to make temporary use of the red crystal at times when it is judged to offer greater protection than the existing red cross or red crescent emblems. The British Red Cross, with government authorisation, would also be able to make temporary use of the red crystal emblem, where, in exceptional circumstances, it would facilitate its work.

Strong support

“The British Red Cross strongly supports acceptance of the red crystal emblem and is very pleased at its good progress so far through Parliament,” said Michael Meyer, head of international law at the British Red Cross. 

“It would give another option for the protection of Red Cross humanitarian workers, as well as for the medical services of the United Kingdom armed forces, in situations where use of the red cross or red crescent emblems could be misunderstood.

“Ultimately, we believe that allowing use of the red crystal emblem would mean our workers and the medical services of the armed forces are safer.

“That said, the British Red Cross remains fully committed to continue using the existing red cross emblem, as we have done for over 130 years. It is one of the most recognised symbols on earth, and will continue to be our emblem of choice long into the future.”

Praise from Foreign Office

Speaking in the parliamentary debate, Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron said: “I know that right hon. and hon. Members will join me in thanking the British Red Cross Society for the co-operation that it has given us in preparing and promoting this important Bill.

“Members will also join me in commending the magnificent work done by the British Red Cross, both in the UK and overseas, where it co-operates with other National Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to which I also pay tribute.

“I ask the House to join me in paying tribute to all those courageous men and women who continue to work under the most difficult and dangerous conditions to save and improve the lives of others.

“The majority of us have been spared the horrors of war, but for those caught up in conflict, we can only imagine their sense of relief and gratitude for the humanitarian support provided by the UN, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the many other organisations that do such work. In passing the Bill, we will make our own small but significant contribution to their efforts.”

Michael Meyer said: "The British Red Cross appreciates the statements of support, expressed from all sides of the House during the second reading debate, for its work and that of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a whole. This is in keeping both with the neutral and humanitarian character of the red crystal emblem and of the British Red Cross as an organisation."

Find out more about the emblems

Read about the Geneva Conventions

Read about the Bill on the FCO’s website