Tuesday, November 08, 2005

International conference to end Red Cross emblem fight

Israel has sought to use a red Star of David for its version of the Red Cross since 1949, but has been denied international recognition.

Switzerland has been working hard to arrange a conference to come up with a compromise solution, and it seems to have paid off, as Swissinfo reports:
Switzerland is to host a diplomatic conference next month aimed at approving a third emblem for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The proposal has been widely welcomed, including by Israel which has been denied full membership for more than 50 years.

The long-standing controversy focuses on the symbol the Israeli first aid society – David Magen Adom – could use to identify itself for humanitarian missions in armed conflicts.

The Israeli authorities reject the red cross used in most countries and the red crescent preferred by Muslim countries.

The Swiss foreign ministry announced on Monday that the 192 signatory countries to the Geneva Conventions - a set of international humanitarian laws - are being invited to attend the meeting.

It is to take place in the Swiss city of Geneva on December 5-6.

The conference is to discuss the recognition of a new first aid symbol, a square standing on one corner, representing a red crystal.

"The proposed emblem is devoid of any national, religious and cultural connotation and will be available for use by those national societies which do not wish to use any of the existing emblems," a foreign ministry statement said.

The latest proposal envisages that the Israeli society would be allowed to put its Red Star of David in the centre of the crystal for descriptive purposes.

Other countries would also have a choice among three emblems: Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal.

The Israeli authorities have thanked Switzerland, the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, for offering to host the conference.

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva described the integration of the Red Star of David as a step towards normalising Israel's position on the international stage.

Palestinian officials said they approved of the Swiss proposal and the new emblem but criticised the continuing human rights violations in Israel's occupied territories.

Aside from the expected swipe at Israel, I am surprised and pleased that the Palestinans are on board.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which includes the national first aid societies and the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), also welcomed the conference.

"The additional emblem would provide an additional protective device for the medical services of armed forces and Red Cross and Red Crescent humanitarian workers," a statement said.

Monday's announcements come after a tour of the Middle East last week by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

She especially worked hard to get the Egyptians on board, knowing the influence Egypt still wields in the Arab world.
It is the latest in a series of attempts by Switzerland to organise a conference to resolve the contentious issue of a new symbol for the Geneva-based organisations.

The last major bid to include Israel was five years ago, but it failed because of increased Arab-Israeli tension.

It's nice to see that Switzerland continues to have influence in the world, and more importantly, uses that influence. This conference is the product of many month's hard diplomatic wrangling; I hope nothing happens to torpedo the proper outcome ( although I fully expect implementation to be delayed due to politics).