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A Cross, A Crescent And A Crystal

A Cross, A Crescent And A CrystalTufts famine expert Peter Walker, a former director of the International Red Cross, explains why the organization adopted a new “red crystal” emblem.

Boston [12.16.05] Seeking to broaden its reach, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has announced that a third emblem, a red crystal, will join the cross and crescent that have for decades stood for the protection of medical personnel, buildings and equipment operating in war zones. Recently, Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts , and former leader of the International Red Cross, talked with National Public Radio about the reasons for the change and the controversy surrounding it.

“This goes right back to a very basic principle of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that everybody around the world should be able to benefit from its protective qualities,” Walker told NPR’s Morning Edition program.

But “the emblems are sometimes perceived as having religious, cultural or political connotations,” which can prove problematic in certain parts of the world, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Talking with NPR, Walker offered the example of Israel.

“Israel’s relief society felt unable to use the cross or the crescent as a symbol and, therefore, citizens of Israel weren't able to benefit from this,” Walker told the news organization. “Really, the world has been seeking a solution since the formation of Israel, and at last we've come to one.”

The answer the organization has arrived at is the red crystal emblem, a red-edged square with points facing down, up, right and left on a white background. It was made possible through the adoption and signing of a Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.

But the creation of this new emblem has not been free from controversy, according to Walker.

“The most obvious [issue] is that for something to be a protective emblem it's got to be easily recognized and universal. And therefore, the more emblems you have, the less likely they are to be recognized. So in an ideal world, you'd just have one,” Walker explained. “It's also a matter of, if one country asks for a new symbol, why not another country and then another country and another country? So it's the precedent issue as well that's been controversial.”

But the benefits of adding this new emblem are substantial, Walker said.

“The relief society in Israel, which has been an observer member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, can now finally join as a full member. And that's great,” Walker told NPR. “The second thing, of course, is that citizens caught up in a conflict where the relief society of Israel is involved will now have the power of that protective emblem.”

Despite the controversy over its emblems, the organization serves a critically important role. “It’s about protecting people in real wars and real crises,” Walker explained to NPR.


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