The emblem

The Red Cross emblem on a white background is a sign of protection under the Geneva Conventions. It is not a religious symbol.

The three emblems: Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal

The red cross, red crescent and red crystal are symbols of protection. International law protects the people who wear them. These people aren’t part of a conflict – they’re simply there to help anyone who needs it. The emblems are not religious symbols.

What is it?

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.

What it's not

The logo is not a first aid or medical sign. It is not a religious or political symbol.

What does it mean?

In times of war, a red cross on a white background means ‘don’t shoot’. Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions the emblem is a symbol of neutrality and protection in armed conflict. To be effective, it must be understood and completely trusted. People die in conflicts when its meaning is misunderstood.

The purpose

Its purpose is to protect the wounded, the sick, and those who care for them in a neutral and impartial way.

The emblem can also show that the person or object displaying the emblem is connected 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’s an inversion of the Swiss flag (a white cross on a red background).

This recognises the historic connection between Switzerland and the original Geneva Convention.

The red cross emblem has no intentional religious meaning. However, in the nineteenth century, the symbol reminded soldiers from the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) of the crusaders of the Middle Ages.

So, since 1876, a small number of countries have used a red crescent emblem in the same way as other countries used the red cross emblem.

On the basis of its use over several decades, the red crescent emblem was formally recognised in the updated Geneva Convention of 1929.

An additional distinctive emblem – the red crystal – was created in 2005 to increase protection in situations where the existing emblems may not be respected. It also helped to promote the universality of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Other emblems

The red crescent and red crystal emblems have exactly the same meaning as the red cross emblem. All three have equal status under international and national law.

So, you may see members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in other countries using the red cross, red crescent or red crystal.

How you can protect the emblem

We need your help to protect the emblems that protect lives. Misuse of the emblem in armed conflict may amount to a war crime.

Even in peacetime, misuse can lead to misunderstandings and uncertainty. Uncertainty may put people who need protection at risk.

The names ‘Red Cross,’ ‘Red Crescent’ and ‘Red Crystal’ are protected. 

Unauthorised use of the emblems is forbidden in international and national law. The British Red Cross monitors unauthorised use or misuse (deliberate or accidental) of the emblems and similar designs in the UK.

The most common misuses of the red cross emblem are found on commercial packaging, products and advertisements related to health care, first aid and medical materials.

If you suspect misuse of one of the emblems or names, or of similar designs and wording, please let us know.

For further information, please contact Michael Meyer, head of international law: mmeyer@redcross.org.uk