The emblem of a red cross – with arms of equal length on a white background – is one of the most recognised symbols in the world.
To be effective, it must be understood and completely trusted.
Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions the emblem is a symbol of neutrality and protection in armed conflict.© Info
Its purpose is to protect the wounded, the sick, and those who care for them in a totally neutral and impartial way.
As such, the primary users are the armed forces’ medical services.
The red crescent and red crystal emblems have exactly the same meaning as the red cross emblem and have equal status under international and national law.
None of these distinctive emblems have any religious or political significance.
The secondary purpose of the emblem is to show a connection with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which includes the British Red Cross.
Origin of the emblems
The red cross emblem was adopted under the original Geneva Convention of 1864. It is an inversion of the Swiss flag (a white cross on a red background).© Info
This recognises the historic connection between Switzerland and the original Geneva Convention.
Although the red cross emblem has no intentional religious meaning, the symbol reminded soldiers from the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) of the crusaders of the Middle Ages. So in 1876, they began using a red crescent instead.
The red crescent on a white background was subsequently used by some other States, before being formally recognised in the updated Geneva Convention of 1929.
An additional distinctive emblem – the red crystal – was established in 2005 to increase protection in situations where the existing emblems may not be respected and to promote the universality of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The cultural emblem
A blue and white shield is the identifying sign for the protection of cultural property in armed conflict (under the 1954 Hague Convention).© Info
This shield can be displayed on specified cultural property, for example, museums, monuments, historic buildings, or archaeological sites, to show that it should not be used for military purposes nor be the object of attack.
Restricted use of the emblems
Because of the important role that these signs play, particularly in armed conflict, their use needs to be strictly controlled and monitored.
Misuse of a distinctive emblem in armed conflict may amount to a war crime.
Even in peacetime, misuse can lead to misunderstandings and uncertainty as to their special function. Such uncertainty may put at risk those who are genuinely entitled to protection.
This is why unauthorised use is forbidden in international and national law. The names ‘Red Cross’, ‘Red Crescent’ and ‘Red Crystal’ are also protected.
In the UK, the relevant national law is the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 (as amended), and the UK Government is responsible for regulating their use.
As part of the privilege to use the red cross emblem, and as a humanitarian auxiliary to the public authorities, the British Red Cross helps to monitor unauthorised use or misuse (whether deliberate or inadvertent) of the emblems and of similar designs in the UK.
The most common misuses of the red cross emblem are found on commercial packaging and products, and on items and materials relating to health care, first aid and medical matters.
If you suspect misuse of one of the emblems/names, or of similar designs/wording, please let us know.