Using the Red Cross emblem

During World War One (WWI), the Red Cross emblem was used by ambulances and medical personnel to protect the sick and wounded in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The red cross emblem continues to be used as protection today. So what are the rules around using the emblem?

Emblems of protection

The red cross, red crescent and red crystal are internationally protected emblems which identify and protect people or facilities providing medical aid during armed conflict, as well as members of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent - the national societies, ICRC or IFRC. Those who wear or work under the emblems are to be protected and respected at all times.

The Red Cross emblem is not a logo nor a trademark but a universal emblem of protection in armed conflict. It was adopted in 1864 in Geneva using the Swiss flag in reverse. The Red Crescent was adopted as a second emblem in 1929. Despite the Red Cross and Red Crescent being neutral humanitarian emblems, on occasion, they have been perceived as having religious connotations. In 2005, at a diplomatic conference, the red crystal was added as a third emblem. This allows countries to choose the emblem as they feel is appropriate.

Use (and misuse) of the emblems

There are strict regulations about the way the emblems are used and misuse of the emblems is prohibited both by international and domestic law. In New Zealamd the Red Cross emblem is protected by the Geneva Conventions Act 1958.

It may not be used without first obtaining authorisation from the Minister of Defence. New Zealand Red Cross helps to protect the effectiveness and integrity of the emblem in war zones by following up on misuses. These are found most commonly in the medical and commercial spheres, for example on first aid kits, maps and street directories, pharmacies, or as part of a company's logo.

To learn more about the emblem, watch this short, informative clip by the Australian Red Cross.

Feature photo: A New Zealand Field Ambulance stationed near Bus-les-Artois, World War I. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association: New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013188-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.