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Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Article 44 : Restrictions in the use of the emblem. Exceptions
Text of the provision*
(1) With the exception of the cases mentioned in the following paragraphs of the present Article, the emblem of the red cross on a white ground and the words ‘Red Cross’, or ‘Geneva Cross’ may not be employed, either in time of peace or in time of war, except to indicate or to protect the medical units and establishments, the personnel and material protected by the present Convention and other Conventions dealing with similar matters. The same shall apply to the emblems mentioned in Article 38, second paragraph, in respect of the countries which use them. The National Red Cross Societies and other Societies designated in Article 26 shall have the right to use the distinctive emblem conferring the protection of the Convention only within the framework of the present paragraph.
(2) Furthermore, National Red Cross (Red Crescent, Red Lion and Sun) Societies may, in time of peace, in accordance with their national legislation, make use of the name and emblem of the Red Cross for their other activities which are in conformity with the principles laid down by the International Red Cross Conferences. When those activities are carried out in time of war, the conditions for the use of the emblem shall be such that it cannot be considered as conferring the protection of the Convention; the emblem shall be comparatively small in size and may not be placed on armlets or on the roofs of buildings.
(3) The international Red Cross organizations and their duly authorized personnel shall be permitted to make use, at all times, of the emblem of the Red Cross on a white ground.
(4) As an exceptional measure, in conformity with national legislation and with the express permission of one of the National Red Cross (Red Crescent, Red Lion and Sun) Societies, the emblem of the Convention may be employed in time of peace to identify vehicles used as ambulances and to mark the position of aid stations exclusively assigned to the purpose of giving free treatment to the wounded or sick.
* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.
Reservations or declarations
United States of America: Reservation made upon ratification.
B. Historical background
C. Paragraph 1: The primacy of the emblem as a protective device
D. Paragraph 2: Use of the emblem by National Societies as an indicative sign
E. Paragraph 3: Use of the emblem by the international Red Cross organizations
F. Paragraph 4: Marking of third-party ambulances and aid stations
Article 44 expresses the general rule that, as a protective device, the distinctive emblems may only be used for the marking of medical units and establishments, personnel and material as laid down under the First Convention (Articles 38–43), as well as under the other Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. Importantly, the article also sets out a number of exceptions to this rule, whereby the emblem may be used by certain additional entities, provided that specific conditions are met.
At the outset, it is important to understand that use of the emblems may take two distinct forms, both of which are identified and elaborated under Article 44. First and foremost is the use of the emblem as a protective device, i.e. as the visible sign of the protection accorded by the Convention to certain persons or objects.
Second is the use of the emblem as an indicative sign, which shows that a person or object is connected with the organizations of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (hereinafter ‘the Movement’). Use of the emblem as an indicative sign does not imply the protection of the Convention.
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B. Historical background
Although earlier versions of the text of Article 44 date from 1906, it was not until the present article was adopted in 1949 that the essential distinction between the protective use and the indicative use of the emblem was made. For example, Article 23 of the 1906 Geneva Convention simply stipulated that the red cross emblem and the words ‘Red Cross’ or ‘Geneva Cross’ could only be used, whether in time of peace or war, ‘to protect or designate sanitary formations and establishments, the personnel and “matériel” protected by the convention’.
The text of Article 23 was expanded upon in the new Article 24 of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick, both to take account of those countries using the red crescent or red lion and sun emblems (these additional distinctive emblems having been formally adopted under the 1929 Convention) and to allow for use of one or other of the emblems by National Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun Societies (hereinafter ‘National Societies’) in connection with their humanitarian activities, in accordance with their national legislation. However, failure to recognize the distinction between the protective and the indicative uses of the emblem led the 1929 Diplomatic Conference to decide that, other than when carrying out their work as auxiliaries to the medical service of the armed forces, National Societies should only be entitled to use the emblem in time of peace. Thus, at the outbreak of a conflict, a National Society was required to prevent the use of the emblem by any of its staff or volunteers or on its buildings or objects not used for the military wounded or attached to the medical service of the armed forces. In practice, this stipulation usually remained a dead letter.
Article 44 of the First Convention of 1949 draws a clear distinction between the protective and the indicative uses of the emblem, and successfully reconciles the two needs which had become apparent. On the one hand, there continued to be the need to use the emblem as a protective device, in particular, by the medical services of armed forces, its original and primary function. On the other hand, National Societies continued to use the emblem for activities outside of their auxiliary role to the military medical services, and the emblem was increasingly associated with both the National Society and these general humanitarian activities. A balance needed to be struck. Article 44 imposes the strictest safeguards on the use of the protective emblem, while allowing National Societies to make appropriate use of the emblem as an indicative sign, including during armed conflict, albeit within certain parameters. Conditions on the indicative use have been further developed in additional texts adopted by International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and associated Movement meetings.
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C. Paragraph 1: The primacy of the emblem as a protective device
Article 44(1) confirms the primacy of the protective use of the emblem to mark medical units and establishments, personnel and material protected by the First Convention and other Conventions dealing with similar matters. The paragraph refers to the red cross emblem and to the other recognized emblems set out under Article 38(2) in respect of the countries that use them.
The words ‘Red Cross’ and ‘Geneva Cross’ are also covered. In effect, while Articles 38 and 39 stipulate that the emblem of the red cross (or one of the other distinctive emblems, where relevant) is the emblem of the medical service of the armed forces and that it should appear on everything connected with them,
Article 44 makes clear that, apart from the prescribed exceptions, it should appear on nothing else. All use of the emblem other than as laid down in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols is strictly forbidden.
A majority of States protect the distinctive emblems and their associated designations in accordance with Article 44(1) in their national legislation, albeit with considerable variations. Mostly, such legislation restricts use of the red cross, red crescent and red lion and sun emblems (although the last is no longer in use).
While some States only protect the specific designation of the emblem used in their territory,
many extend protection to both the ‘Red Cross’ and ‘Red Crescent’ designations (and in some cases also to the designation ‘Red Lion and Sun’).
Few, however, apparently refer explicitly to the use of the designation ‘Geneva Cross’.
Article 44(1) stipulates that the emblem and relevant designations may not be employed either in time of peace or in time of war, except as described in Article 44. While the emblem laws of a number of States include references to both armed conflict and peacetime, few define these terms.
In addition, the paragraph contains a reference to ‘other Conventions dealing with similar matters’, which was a newly suggested inclusion in 1949.
The preparatory work indicates that this text refers to the other 1949 Geneva Conventions.
Today, it would also refer to the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.
Article 44 also allows for use of the emblem as a protective device by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as other Societies so designated under Article 26 of the Convention ‘within the framework of the present paragraph’.
This means that such Societies may employ the protective sign only for that part of their personnel and material which assists the medical service of the armed forces, is employed exclusively for the same purpose, and is subject to military laws and regulations.
Even then, they can use it only with the consent of the military authority.
In recent times, few National Societies have deployed as auxiliaries to the medical service of their country’s armed forces. More generally, National Societies may act as an auxiliary to their respective public authorities in the humanitarian field.
Such a role may also be exercised in the context of an armed conflict, where a National Society may be called upon to provide, for example, psychosocial, family tracing and/or other support to members of the armed forces, to nationals of their country or to others in need of it. However, such activities are distinct from those envisaged under Article 26 of the First Convention, and do not trigger the application of Article 44(1) (i.e. they do not entail an entitlement to use the emblem as a protective device).
Although Article 44 concerns international armed conflict, in situations of non-international armed conflict a National Society may exercise its status and role as an auxiliary to the medical service of the armed forces in line with the idea underpinning Article 26. It may also do so more generally as an auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field. While the role of National Societies as auxiliaries has evolved over time, there is a distinct legal regime governing a National Society’s use of the emblem in these different roles. Use of the protective emblem is limited to situations that conform to Article 26. Furthermore, in practice, in non-international armed conflicts the National Society may prefer not to act in its auxiliary role, so as to distinguish itself from the government (which may be a Party to the conflict) and thus maintain the confidence of the whole population.
Its auxiliary status may nevertheless enable the Society to take on certain functions during the armed conflict, such as the coordination of incoming international humanitarian assistance.
In any case, in such situations a National Society may, at most, use its logo, under certain conditions.
More detailed guidance on the appropriate use of the emblem by National Societies (both as a protective device and as an indicative sign) has been provided by successive sessions of the statutory meetings of the Movement, in particular by the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which brings together the States party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the components of the Movement every four years. The 20th International Conference in 1965 adopted a set of regulations on the use of the emblem by National Societies, entitled the ‘Regulations on the Use of the Emblem of the Red Cross, of the Red Crescent and of the Red Lion and Sun by the National Societies’, which were subsequently revised in 1991 by the Movement’s Council of Delegates.
These Regulations (hereinafter referred to as ‘the 1991 Emblem Regulations’) contain one chapter on the protective use of the emblem and another on its indicative use, as well as a number of general rules pertaining to both. The ICRC has stressed that the 1991 Emblem Regulations are in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and that they represent the widest possible interpretation of the relevant treaty rules.
The 1991 Emblem Regulations must also be applied within the framework of the relevant national laws on emblem use.
The indicative use of the emblem, as elaborated under the 1991 Emblem Regulations, is examined in greater detail below. Regarding use of the emblem as a protective device by National Societies, the 1991 Emblem Regulations confirm that such use is permissible only with the consent of, and in accordance with, the conditions laid down by the State authority. It is therefore up to States to take the necessary steps to authorize and control the protective use of the emblem. To avoid National Societies being caught unprepared in the event of an armed conflict, the State authority should determine in peacetime the National Society’s role as auxiliary to the military medical service and its right to use the emblem for its medical personnel and equipment.
This is in keeping with the framework of Article 44(1), whereby National Societies use the protective emblem when operating in their auxiliary role to the medical service of the armed forces. While evidence suggests that formal authorization may not always be provided by a State, the potential for such use may be agreed in practice.
In addition, the 1991 Emblem Regulations stipulate that, when used as a protective device by National Societies, the emblem must always retain its original form
and be identifiable from as far away as possible and be as large as necessary under the circumstances.
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D. Paragraph 2: Use of the emblem by National Societies as an indicative sign
Article 44(2) is concerned with the indicative use of the emblem and name by National Societies.
Use of the emblem by the international organizations of the Movement (namely the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (hereinafter ‘International Federation’)) is dealt with in Article 44(3) and is subject to specific rules.
The emblem has a purely indicative value when it is used to show that a person or object has a connection with one of the organizations of the Movement, without implying protection under the Geneva Conventions or any intention to invoke them. When used in this way, the sign should be small in proportion to the person or object, and must be accompanied by the name or initials of the relevant organization.
The conditions under which it is used should preclude any risk of confusion with the emblem as a protective device.
The reason for this is the need for stringent control over the use of the emblem as a protective device; it is vital to avoid that any abuse or misuse of the emblem as a protective device by third parties leads to a loss of trust and therefore diminishes its protective value.
On plain reading, Article 44(2) makes a distinction between the indicative use of the emblem in time of peace and its indicative use in time of war, when the latter circumstance additionally requires that the emblem for indicative purposes be comparatively small in size and may not be placed on armlets or on the roofs of buildings. This is to avoid the perception that the emblem as a protective device, which must be as large as necessary to aid identification, is being displayed. However, the stipulations regarding size and non-use of the indicative emblem on certain objects were extended in the 1991 Emblem Regulations as applying to its use both in time of peace and in time of war.
This has helped to further obviate the risk of confusion between the protective use and the indicative use of the emblem in the event of an armed conflict.
The fact that National Societies may not display the protective emblem (other than when acting as auxiliaries to the medical services of the armed forces in accordance with Articles 26 or 27) does not mean that they are not protected from attack under humanitarian law. It should be recalled that it is not the display of the emblem as a protective device itself that confers protection. Even without any emblem being displayed, civilians and civilian objects, including the staff and volunteers and property of National Societies, remain, under humanitarian law, protected against direct attack (provided, of course, they do not take a direct part in hostilities).
It has been observed that, in practice, a number of National Societies carrying out their humanitarian activities in insecure operational contexts, including in situations of armed conflict, display the indicative emblem (in the form of the National Society’s logo) in a large size, in particular on the uniforms or bibs of personnel and on vehicles, to aid identification. These activities do not fall within the National Society’s role as auxiliary to the medical service of the armed forces (although they may well be carried out as part of its broader role as auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field). There do not seem to have been any objections to this practice by the States concerned. Displaying a large logo may, in certain circumstances, enhance the visibility of the National Society and contribute to its ability to carry out life-saving humanitarian activities. This practice does not conform strictly to the letter of the Convention and is not fully covered by the 1991 Emblem Regulations, which stipulate that the logo should be comparatively small in size.
It would therefore seem necessary for each State to determine, with its National Society, whether such practice is permissible in its national context. Use of a large-size logo should occur on an exceptional basis only, and purely for operational purposes (e.g. to ensure visibility or safe access to populations in need). A large-size logo must not be authorized for fundraising or commercial purposes.
If the use of a large-size indicative emblem is permissible for operational purposes, it is important that the name or initials of the National Society always appear. In other words, the National Society must use its official logo, as required by the 1991 Emblem Regulations, and especially when using a large-size emblem for indicative purposes. Otherwise, in practice, it would be impossible to distinguish between the indicative and the protective uses of the emblem.
While neither Article 44 nor the 1991 Emblem Regulations provide an exact definition of the term ‘comparatively small’, national legislation, agreed national practice and/or the internal regulations of the National Society concerning the use of the emblem may expand on this notion.
Paragraph 2 states that National Societies may use the emblem as an indicative sign ‘in accordance with their national legislation’. While a majority of countries have introduced some form of legislation on the use of the emblem, a handful have yet to do so.
Nevertheless, in a number of the latter cases the relevant National Society uses one of the distinctive emblems, notwithstanding the absence of national legislation governing its use.
Article 44(2) also states that National Societies may use the name and emblem for their activities (outside of those set out in paragraph 1) ‘which are in conformity with the principles laid down by the International Red Cross Conferences’. The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (the successor to the International Conference of the Red Cross) has long had an interest in matters of emblem protection (both in terms of its use by those authorized to do so, including States and components of the Movement, and instances of misuse). For example, from 1869 onwards, the International Conference has regularly discussed or adopted resolutions regarding abuses of the emblem, concerning itself with matters such as the adoption of national legislative measures to repress such abuses.
As noted earlier, the original version of the 1991 Emblem Regulations was adopted in 1965 by the 20th International Conference.
The principles referred to in Article 44(2) were further developed in the years following the adoption of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and may generally be understood as referring to the Fundamental Principles of the Movement, as adopted by the 20th International Conference of the Red Cross in 1965.
The requirement that use of the emblem by National Societies be solely for activities that conform to the Fundamental Principles is confirmed and elaborated in the 1991 Emblem Regulations.
In addition, National Societies may not use the emblem when carrying out activities which have only a tenuous connection with their essential humanitarian mission.
Since the adoption of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, National Societies, while maintaining their core mission and functions, have greatly diversified their activities.
In addition, today there is an acknowledged need for all organizations, including National Societies, to communicate their identity and ‘brand’ effectively to relevant audiences, for example in traditional media, as well as, increasingly, in the digital sphere.
Moreover, many National Societies are experiencing greater competition for resources, owing to a perceived decrease in suitable funding sources for the ever expanding humanitarian needs.
Partly as a result of these circumstances, the Movement has developed more detailed guidance on the interpretation of the relevant rules governing indicative use of the emblem (namely the applicable treaty provisions and the 1991 Emblem Regulations). These resources, including a number of Movement policies
and a study by the ICRC concluded in 2009,
do not modify or develop the existing legal framework but help to inform practical implementation of the rules and to address those areas of greatest difficulty.
An increasing emphasis on fundraising and communication activities at the global level have, in part, highlighted a lack of uniformity by National Societies in their use of the emblem as an indicative sign.
Mindful of the need for greater coherence on emblem use and better adherence to the existing rules, the 2013 Council of Delegates urged the components of the Movement to recognize the existing international provisions governing use of the emblem (including Article 44 of the First Convention), as well as the 1991 Emblem Regulations.
The Council also reaffirmed the paramount importance of ensuring understanding of, and respect for, the emblem’s functions when used as a protective device or as an indicative sign.
Lastly, the crucial role and interest of States, which bear the overall responsibility and authority for controlling use of the emblem and ensuring better compliance with the existing legal framework, cannot be overestimated.
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E. Paragraph 3: Use of the emblem by the international Red Cross organizations
A further exception to the general principle set out in Article 44(1) is the permitted use, at all times, of the distinctive emblem by the ‘international Red Cross organizations’.
Prior to 1949, there was no international provision formally authorizing these organizations to make use of the emblem, even though, in practice, their right to do so was never contested by governments.
This omission in earlier versions of the First Convention was therefore helpfully remedied by the inclusion of the third paragraph of Article 44.
At the time of its adoption in 1949, this paragraph applied to the ICRC and to the League of Red Cross Societies (the latter having been established in 1919).
Therefore, the paragraph referred only to use of the red cross emblem. In 1983, the League changed its name to the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,
and in 1991 it became formally known as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The logo of the International Federation incorporates the red cross and red crescent emblems side by side.
Given these developments, paragraph 3, while not explicitly providing for such use, should be interpreted as including use of the red crescent emblem by the International Federation.
The authorization in paragraph 3 is granted without reservation.
Consequently, the present paragraph refers to both the protective and the indicative uses of the emblem by either organization. In practice, the ICRC may use the emblem as a protective device (and therefore during hostilities).
While both the ICRC and the International Federation are permitted to use the emblem under the present paragraph, they are not obliged to do so. This means that either organization may choose not to display the emblem, in circumstances where, for example, such use may not be appropriate
or in a context where the protective value of the emblem may have been compromised.
Both the ICRC and the International Federation are entitled to use the red crystal emblem by virtue of Article 4 of Additional Protocol III. However, such use may only occur in exceptional circumstances, in order to facilitate their work.
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F. Paragraph 4: Marking of third-party ambulances and aid stations
Article 44(4) provides for a limited possibility for third parties to use the emblem for two specific purposes: to identify vehicles used as ambulances and to mark the position of aid stations, where either of these are used to provide free treatment for the wounded or sick. The paragraph, although subject to strict conditions, represents a departure from the general principle that third-party organizations and individuals are not permitted to use the emblem.
A provision allowing for use of the emblem on aid stations providing free treatment was first introduced under Article 24 of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick. This text was retained and extended under the present Article 44 to include vehicles used as ambulances.
Acknowledging that the possibility of using the emblem in such ways could be open to abuse, the 1929 Diplomatic Conference laid down stringent safeguards that were preserved in the 1949 text. In particular, the paragraph refers only to use of the emblem in peacetime, precluding the possibility of such ambulances and aid stations being marked in time of armed conflict (and therefore avoiding any potential confusion with the use of the emblem as a protective device in such circumstances).
In addition, the treatment provided in such cases must be free and exclusively available to the wounded and sick, and the emblem may not be used on any items or objects other than those specified in the paragraph.
Paragraph 4 stipulates that the emblem may be employed for the aforementioned purposes only where they are in conformity with national legislation. In effect, States can limit the scope of this paragraph or introduce extra safeguards through such measures.
In addition, express authorization must be given by the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society,
effectively conferring on such Societies a public function not shared by any other organization.
There is evidence that, in some countries, the emblem is used by third-party organizations to provide treatment to the general population in peacetime.
However, it is not clear whether these instances are always in conformity with Article 44(4) (and in some cases they may constitute improper use of the emblem).
On occasion, the ICRC is approached by a National Society to provide guidance on whether, for example, a specific third party providing ambulance or other relevant services should be permitted to use the emblem. Although paragraph 4 provides for a limited possibility of doing so, the ICRC prefers that such situations be avoided, in order to prevent potentially widespread use of the emblem.
Today, it would seem that there are sound reasons for paragraph 4 to be limited in application, to the extent possible. The purpose of this text, when first introduced and later extended, appears to have been to reflect the increasing improvement in a number of countries in the provision of public first-aid and medical services (such as the introduction of ambulance services) in the first half of the 20th century. In many States these activities are becoming increasingly sophisticated and professionalized, and can involve a range of public and private actors.
Given the growth and diversity of these services, restricting the application of paragraph 4 helps to avoid excessive use of the emblem and thereby to preserve its special meaning and unique status.
In addition, considerable effort has been made in recent years in a number of countries to encourage use of dedicated symbols for first-aid activities and for a variety of medical services. For example, in some countries, first aid is now marked with an official sign recognized for that purpose, often incorporating a white cross on a green background.
The ‘star of life’ is also used in some countries to identify emergency medical services, including ambulances.
The increasing acceptance and use of such symbols, some of which have been subject to formal recognition and/or standardization at a national, in some cases regional, and even international, level, is a very positive development in terms of maintaining the special significance and status of the emblem. States should use and encourage greater use of such signs, where appropriate. National Societies should also promote their use and use them for their own relevant activities, as far as possible alongside their official logo.
In addition, the appropriate display of alternative symbols introduced for certain functions, such as the first-aid sign, both by components of the Movement and by third parties, will prevent excessive or improper use of the emblem and help to preserve its unique meaning and status.
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- United Nations
, Vol. 213, 1955, pp. 378–381. For the text of the reservation and a discussion thereof, see the commentary on Article 53, paras 3086–3087.
- This does not mean that the protection of such persons or objects is dependent on use of the emblem; protected persons or objects that do not display the emblem do not lose their protected status under the Convention. See the commentary on Article 39, paras 2566 and 2578.
- This process of development resulted in the ‘Regulations on the Use of the Emblem of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent by the National Societies’, adopted by the 20th International Conference of the Red Cross (Vienna, 1965) and revised by the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (Budapest, 1991). The revised text was effectively endorsed through a written procedure by all States party to the Geneva Conventions.
- These other recognized emblems are the red crescent and the red lion and sun. Since the adoption of Additional Protocol III in 2005, they include the third Protocol emblem, or ‘red crystal’.
- See the commentary on Article 39, para. 2572, for a full list of persons, establishments, units and transports entitled to display the distinctive emblems under the present Convention, as well as practical examples of specific items and equipment on which they may be displayed.
- This is also in spite of the fact that Article 44(1) applies to the red crescent and red lion and sun emblems only ‘in respect of the countries which use them’. In practice, therefore, many States have taken a more expansive view of this paragraph. See the commentary on Article 53, fn. 58, for examples of States which have enacted legislation protecting the red cross, red crescent and red lion and sun emblems.
- See e.g. Brunei Darussalam.
- This is in spite of the fact that Article 44(1) does not explicitly refer to the designations ‘Red Crescent’ and ‘Red Lion and Sun’ (only to the emblems themselves: see fn. 6). More recently, since the adoption of Additional Protocol III in 2005, legislation in some countries has been extended to include the red crystal emblem and one or both of its designations (i.e. ‘Red Crystal’ and ‘Third Protocol Emblem’).
- See the commentary on Article 53, fn. 16, for examples of States that explicitly refer to the designation ‘Geneva Cross’ in their national legislation.
- Of the few that define ‘armed conflict’, Belarus applies the definition given in common Article 2 of the Geneva Conventions, Article 1(4) of Additional Protocol I and Article 1 of Additional Protocol II (thereby covering international and certain non-international armed conflicts); see Belarus, Law on the Emblem, 2000, Article 2. Cameroon specifies both international and non-international armed conflicts; see Cameroon, Emblem Law, 1997, Section 8. No definition of ‘peacetime’ was found in any of the national laws examined (although the term is used extensively). A number of States, in particular those with Geneva Conventions Acts (and some with a Red Cross or Red Crescent Act), do not refer to ‘armed conflict’ or ‘peacetime’ in the relevant articles, but do incorporate the texts of the Four Geneva Conventions by reference or in a schedule.
- The preparatory work for the 1949 Conventions indicates that a suggestion to include a similar text at this juncture (‘this or other international Conventions’ in replacement of ‘the Convention’) was tabled by the delegation of the United States, and accepted unanimously. Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-A, p. 95.
- Minutes of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Commission I, Vol. I, pp. 35–36 (US).
- See Article 40, which allows the personnel of such organizations to wear an armlet and carry identity cards, both bearing the emblem. In practice, relatively few organizations other than National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies undertake such auxiliary activities.
- For a discussion of these terms, see the commentary on Article 26.
- Article 2 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations confirms that National Societies ‘may use the emblem as a protective device only with the consent of and in accordance with the conditions laid down by the [competent State] Authority’.
- This is a condition for recognition as a National Society: Article 4(3) of the 1986 Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. See also Article 3(1) of the Statutes and Resolution 2 of the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Geneva, 2007) and Resolution 4 of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Geneva, 2011). See also the commentary on Article 26, fns 27 and 79.
- In addition, the medical personnel of such National Societies may potentially be authorized to display the emblem as a protective device where they are ‘regularly and solely engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals’ (Fourth Convention, Article 20(1)). Moreover, under Additional Protocol I, the competent authority may authorize civilian medical personnel (which can include National Society medical personnel who are not attached to the medical service of the armed forces (see Article 8(c)) to use the emblem as a protective device (see Article 18 of the Protocol).
- For example, this is the reported approach of the Colombian Red Cross Society in relation to the non-international armed conflict in its territory.
- If this happens, the National Society must uphold its obligation to respect the Fundamental Principles, in particular impartiality and neutrality. The ability of a National Society to give practical effect to its auxiliary status in a non-international armed conflict in its territory will depend on the national context, will be driven by a range of factors, and may change over time. For example, in the non-international armed conflict in Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent has been able to take on a formally recognized role in humanitarian coordination tasks, in principle (at least in part) owing to its auxiliary status. At the same time, the Society makes every effort to ensure that its adherence to the Fundamental Principles, in particular neutrality and impartiality, is well understood, both within Syria and externally (these efforts being supported by the wider Movement). That said, it is perhaps obvious that the fulfilment of a National Society’s auxiliary role, and the management of perceptions by others of this role, will remain highly challenging in the context of a non-international armed conflict.
- See ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems, pp. 122–125.
- The Council of Delegates is the forum where the representatives of the components of the Movement meet to discuss matters which concern the Movement as a whole. It does not include the States party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions; however, following their revision by the Council of Delegates, the 1991 Emblem Regulations were forwarded by the ICRC to all States Parties, none of which submitted any formal objections to the amendments.
- See the preamble to the 1991 Emblem Regulations, which also stipulate that, while they develop Article 44 of the First Convention, certain provisions will take on a broader meaning for the National Societies of countries that are party to Additional Protocol I.
- Emblem Regulations (1991), Article 2 and its commentary.
- In a survey of 20 National Societies on emblem use carried out in 2013 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the National Society emblem survey’), the National Societies of the following States reported that they had received no formal authorization to use the emblem as a protective device: Austria, Canada, Chile, Lithuania, South Sudan, Spain and Thailand.
- Emblem Regulations (1991), Article 5.
- Emblem Regulations (1991), Article 6. In the National Society emblem survey, no responding National Society reported any circumstances in which they used the emblem as a protective device. However, a number reported using a large-sized emblem on various items, either as part of their marque (logo) or on its own, for indicative purposes (and consequently outside the framework of Article 44 and the 1991 Emblem Regulations). The implications of such use are discussed in paras 2677–2678.
- Although Article 44(2) refers explicitly to the ‘name and emblem of the Red Cross’, given its reference to Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun Societies, in effect it also permits National Red Crescent Societies to use the name and emblem of the red crescent. Following the discontinuation in 1980 of use of the red lion and sun emblem by the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are currently no National Red Lion and Sun Societies. It should be noted that references to National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also include the Magen David Adom (MDA) (Red Shield of David) in Israel; although the Red Shield of David is not a formally recognized distinctive emblem under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the MDA is an officially recognized National Society and part of the Movement. See Article 3(2) of Additional Protocol III, which, in effect, sets out how the MDA may continue to use its name and associated emblem, while also making use of the red crystal (Third Protocol) emblem. It is the MDA’s use of the red crystal emblem that enabled it to be recognized as a National Society.
- The requirement that the emblem, when used as an indicative sign, be accompanied by the name or initials of the National Society is set out in Article 5 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations.
- Even prior to 1949 the disadvantages of having two separate uses of the emblem (protective and indicative) were identified: as Pictet notes, ‘it may well be asked whether at the outset it would not have been better to adopt two distinct emblems; one as the visible sign of the protection conferred by the Convention, the other as the flag of the National Red Cross Societies for their work as a whole’. Pictet goes on to note that, in spite of the difficulties, there are some advantages to such use, both for the Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations (which benefit from the prestige of the emblem) and for the emblem itself, where the organizations are held in high esteem. That said, care must always be taken that the distinction between the two uses of the emblem (i.e. protective and indicative) is clearly made. See Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the First Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1952, p. 330.
- Regarding indicative use of the emblem, Article 4 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations stipulates that National Societies ‘shall endeavour to follow [the rule relating to emblem size and non-use on certain items] in peacetime so as to avoid from the very beginning of a conflict any confusion with the emblem used as a protective device’. The commentary on Article 4 goes on to explain that, in spite of this stipulation, ‘the use of a large-size emblem is not excluded in certain cases, such as events where it is important for first-aid workers to be easily identifiable’. Articles 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21 and 23 (the commentary) of the 1991 Emblem Regulations set out specific situations in which the emblem as an indicative device must be relatively small or of reduced dimensions (e.g. when worn by members and employees of the National Society while on duty (Article 14), and when placed on the buildings and premises of the National Society (Article 19)).
- See Emblem Regulations (1991), commentary on Article 16(1).
- Article 7 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations requires National Societies to establish such regulations or directives, and sets out their possible content. A number of National Societies have agreed national practice (developed in conjunction with their public authorities) or established internal regulations aiming to clarify such matters, for example by setting out the agreed size of the emblem on a range of National Society objects and materials (such as buildings, uniforms, vehicles and documents). According to the National Society emblem survey, examples of countries whose National Societies have done so include Argentina, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Norway, Spain, Sweden, South Sudan and Thailand. While national standards are helpful, there can be a lack of uniformity in size (as well as a lack of consistency more generally on matters of emblem use) from one country to another. This can have ramifications in relation to activities that involve a number of National Societies or, for example, for uses of the emblem that can reach a global audience, such as on the internet. These differences in national use of the indicative sign, and the efforts taken by the Movement to address such difficulties, are further discussed in paras 2683–2684.
- It is estimated that, at the time of writing, approximately 20 States do not have any form of national legislation on the use of the emblem.
- Examples of countries that do not have national legislation on the use of the emblem but do have a recognized National Society using one of the distinctive emblems include Afghanistan, Kuwait, San Marino and Somalia.
- Perruchoud, p. 212, reports that, in its consistent efforts to promote the need for stronger national measures to repress abuses of the emblem, the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent demonstrated one of its essential roles in adopting resolutions, that is, where possible, to create conditions favourable to the development and adoption by States of binding provisions, whether national or international, on areas of humanitarian concern.
- The seven Fundamental Principles of the Movement are: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality (adopted by the 20th International Conference of the Red Cross, Vienna, 1965, Resolution 8, and incorporated with some amendments into the Statutes of the Movement, adopted by the 25th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 1986, Resolution 31).
- Article 3 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations confirms this requirement and also adds an obligation on National Societies to ensure, at all times, that nothing tarnishes the prestige of the emblem or reduce respect for it.
- Emblem Regulations (1991), commentary on Article 3. One may ask in what circumstances a National Society might engage in activities that depart from its essential humanitarian mission. As National Societies have developed, they have often had to seek to diversify their funding sources. A growing area of focus for many National Societies is the need to engage with third-party (often commercial) organizations both in terms of programme delivery, but also, importantly, for fundraising purposes. Some joint fundraising activities may well have a less direct connection with the humanitarian mission of the Society. A further development is the growing trend of some National Societies to establish and manage their own commercial (i.e. profit-making) enterprises to support their funding needs. While some such enterprises may concern the delivery of health, ambulance or first-aid services, others may involve, for example, the management of retail shops, hotels and other leisure services. For a more full discussion of this issue, see Doole, pp. 4–9.
- For example, many National Societies have expanded their activities into areas such as migration and development.
- The distinctive emblems are not, in themselves, a ‘brand’: they must be viewed in terms of their special meaning and purpose under the Geneva Conventions. However, when used as an indicative sign by a National Society, the emblem inevitably becomes part of the visual identity or ‘brand’ of the Society. The inherent tension between the protective and the indicative uses of the emblem and the care needed to ensure that the two are kept separate has been discussed earlier (see fn. 29).
- In 2013, the Council of Delegates acknowledged that the Movement is operating in ‘a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive environment, particularly with respect to positioning and obtaining funds’ (Council of Delegates, Sydney, 2013, Res. 6, Preamble, para. 1).
- For example, ‘Minimum elements to be included in operational agreements between Movement components and their external operational partners’ (Council of Delegates, Geneva, 2003, Res. 10 (Annex)), and ‘Substantive provisions of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement policy for corporate sector partnerships’ (Council of Delegates, Seoul, 2005, Res. 10 (Annex)).
- ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems (welcomed by the Council of Delegates, Nairobi, 2009, Res. 2, Preamble, para. 6).
- The ICRC’s Study on the Use of the Emblems is particularly comprehensive and includes many useful and practical examples. It covers use (both protective and indicative) of the emblem by National Societies and other components of the Movement and provides guidance on the control and use of the emblem by States and (where relevant) third parties. That said, while States (including governmental and military representatives) were consulted in the drafting of the text, they have not formally endorsed it.
- In 2013, the Movement noted with concern the ‘lack of consistency in the interpretation and practical application of the 1991 Emblem Regulations by National Societies’ (Council of Delegates, Sydney, 2013, Res. 6, Preamble, para. 12). Evidence of such inconsistencies had been gathered partly through an ‘International Branding Initiative’ launched by the Movement in 2010. Two key purposes of the initiative were to examine use of the emblem by National Societies and to provide further guidance on some aspects of the 1991 Emblem Regulations. A series of workshops held as part of the initiative enabled National Societies, the ICRC and the International Federation to share practical experiences and examples of their use of the emblem. Further evidence was also gathered in the National Society emblem survey. These examples revealed a wide variation in interpretation by National Societies of parts of the 1991 Emblem Regulations, as well as some practice that was, regrettably, outside of the Regulations. Two particular discrepancies were use of the emblem for so-called ‘decorative purposes’ (covered by Article 5 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations) and use of the emblem on third-party products or items for sale (which is prohibited under Article 23 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations). Regarding the former, Article 5 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations allows for limited use of a ‘freer design’ of the indicative emblem where the purpose is to promote the National Society and the Movement at public events or on the National Society’s own promotional materials. However, such use must not be prohibited by national legislation and, importantly, must not tarnish the prestige of the emblem or reduce respect for it (in accordance with Article 3 of the 1991 Emblem Regulations). If a decorative design is permitted for use within the above parameters, it should, as far as possible, be accompanied by the emblem used as an indicative sign (i.e. a small-sized emblem accompanied by the name or initials of the National Society, normally the National Society’s ordinary logo).
- Council of Delegates, Sydney, 2013, Res. 6, para. 14. Similarly, in 2007 and 2009 the Council of Delegates emphasized the vital importance of respect for the rules governing use of the emblem (Council of Delegates, Geneva, 2007, Res. 7, Preamble, para. 4; Council of Delegates, Nairobi, 2009, Res. 2, para. 5).
- Council of Delegates, Sydney, 2013, Res. 6, Preamble, para. 12.
- States’ continuing interest in ensuring adherence to the rules on emblem use is demonstrated, for example, through successive resolutions of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent dealing with emblem matters (e.g. 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 2007, Res. 2, Preamble, para. 11).
- Interestingly, unlike the previous paragraph concerning National Societies, there is no explicit reference in Article 44(3) to use of the name of the emblem by the international Red Cross organizations. However, their ability to use the name may be implied, and it is certainly confirmed, through practice.
- For example, during the Second World War the ICRC proposed to governments that, in given cases and with States’ formal consent, the emblem should be displayed on certain forms of transport (namely ships, but also rail and road convoys) organized by and under the control of the ICRC (or of a National Society); see Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the First Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1952, p. 336. For its part, the League of Red Cross Societies, although a partner in the Joint Relief Commission established with the ICRC in 1940, did not supervise the transfer of supplies or conduct negotiations with relevant authorities, but undertook a number of important support tasks, including purchasing supplies and keeping records, where requested; Reid/Gilbo, p. 127.
- It might be said that the red cross (or red crescent) emblem could also be used by a third ‘international’ entity: the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. However, the Movement is not an ‘organization’ (or a legal or operational entity) in its own right: rather, it is the term used to describe the collective organizations of the Movement (the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the recognized National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). In practice, the emblems displayed alongside one another on a white background (accompanied by the name of the Movement) may be used to signify the Movement (this is recognized by implication in preambular paragraph 10 of Additional Protocol III). That said, the Movement is not an ‘international organization’ in the sense of Article 44(3).
- From 1973 to 1976, a process of revision of the Constitution of the League of Red Cross Societies took place, during which, in spite of some support for a change among National Societies, the official name of the League was eventually retained (in part owing to the specific reference to the League of Red Cross Societies in certain articles of the Additional Protocols (e.g. Article 81(3) of Additional Protocol I). However, it was agreed in 1977 to use the title ‘International Federation of Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun Societies’ on documents produced by the League (this being facilitated by an amendment to the League’s Rules of Procedure), while also retaining the official name ‘League of Red Cross Societies’. When the name of the League was officially changed in 1983 to ‘League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ through an amendment to its Constitution, the Rules of Procedure were amended accordingly. See Item 16 (Amendments to the Statutory Texts of the League, Report of the Ad-Hoc Working Group), 8th Session of the General Assembly of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Budapest, 1991.
- Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Procedure of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies confirms the official name of the organization. An annex to Rule 1.3 sets out the appropriate form and use, on letterheads and publications, of the International Federation’s logo, this being the red cross and red crescent emblems side by side within a rectangular red frame, normally accompanied by the organization’s full name.
- For its part, although not explicitly authorized to do so under the present paragraph, in principle the ICRC is not prevented from using the red crescent emblem, should it wish to do so. In its Study on the Use of the Emblems, the ICRC stated that there may be exceptional circumstances in which it could decide to use the red crescent emblem, out of operational necessity. A distinction should be made between potential use at a specific site or on a specific object, or for a particular activity, and potentially wide use in a given context (e.g. across a country). In the former instance, authority for such use may rest with the head of the relevant ICRC delegation and be limited in time. In the latter case, such use would require authorization from ICRC Headquarters after consultation with the relevant National Society and the Parties to the armed conflict (ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems, pp. 153–154).
- That said, the ICRC and the International Federation have agreed to abide by the aforementioned Emblem Regulations for indicative and so-called ‘decorative’ uses of the emblem (Council of Delegates, Birmingham, 1993, Res. 8, para. 4). As explained earlier, the Regulations set out various restrictions on use, including size and form. In addition, national legislation governing use of the emblem may be relevant to its use by the ICRC and the International Federation. For the ICRC, indicative use of the emblem normally takes the form of its ‘roundel’ (consisting of the red cross emblem enclosed in two concentric circles between which are written the words ‘COMITE INTERNATIONAL GENEVE’) with its initials (in the appropriate language: e.g. CICR, ICRC, MKKK, etc.) beneath. For the agreed form of indicative use by the International Federation, see fn. 53.
- The ICRC’s Study on the Use of the Emblems, p. 156, provides a number of examples. In addition to the use of the red cross emblem (i.e. a red cross on a white ground), the ICRC has developed a longstanding practice of using its ‘roundel’ (which includes the red cross emblem – see fn. 56) for protective purposes. The ICRC reports that this practice has been developed for reasons of security and identification, and is accepted by States; see ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems, p. 157, in particular fn. 232. For its part, the International Federation does not stipulate when its own use of the emblems is protective rather than indicative, and its Rules of Procedure do not refer to protective use. On occasion the International Federation has used a large red cross emblem and red crescent emblem side by side within a red rectangle, without the organization’s name, in its field operations, reportedly for visibility purposes. Such use of the large-sized Federation logo (without its name) would not constitute use of the emblems as a protective device within the terms of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.
- For example, where such use may contravene the requirements set out under the 1991 Emblem Regulations.
- The ICRC reports that, on the whole, it has not run into difficulties when displaying the emblem. However, in exceptional circumstances in which the ICRC and/or the emblem (or the ICRC’s logo) might be perceived as having certain connotations that could endanger its staff, it may decide not to use the red cross emblem (whether as a protective or as an indicative device). Such a decision would be based only on operational necessity, taking into account the consistency of the ICRC approach in the field (ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems, p. 152).
- In practice, to date, neither the ICRC nor the International Federation has used the red crystal emblem. In addition, preambular paragraph 10 of Additional Protocol III notes the determination of the ICRC and the International Federation (as well as of the Movement) to retain their current names and emblems. The ICRC has stated that ‘it may be necessary for combatants and civilians during armed conflicts, as well as for the civilian population in general, to become familiar with the red crystal as a new protective device’ before the ICRC would take the exceptional decision to display it in the field (ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems, p. 153).
- Article 53(1) of the First Convention sets out the broad prohibition on the use of the emblem by a range of third parties, other than those entitled to do so under the Convention.
- Both the 1929 and the updated 1949 texts must be understood in the context of relevant practical developments during these periods. While in 1929 the Diplomatic Conference acknowledged the benefits of allowing use of the emblem (subject to the permission of the National Society) on first-aid stations providing free treatment (for example along roadsides and at public events), by 1949 the increasing introduction of motor ambulances and the perceived need for these to be clearly and uniformly marked compelled the Diplomatic Conference to grant the same permission to such vehicles. This extension reflected the apparent practice in the marking of ambulances that had arisen at that time; see Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the First Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1952, p. 337.
- This means that, where the emblem has been authorized for use in accordance with Article 44(4), the sign must be removed from all such aid stations and ambulances during situations of armed conflict covered by the Geneva Conventions.
- Article 44(4) explicitly states that use of the emblem on such aid stations and ambulances, subject to certain conditions, is an ‘exceptional measure’. In addition to aid stations and ambulances, Pictet noted that, in some countries, the emblem also appeared on first-aid kits kept in public buildings, on public transport and in large stores and factories, and considered that such use did not infringe ‘either the spirit or the letter of the Convention’ (although display of the emblem on first-aid kits sold commercially for private use would do so); Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the First Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1952, p. 338. Today, one could consider that use of the emblem on freely available public first-aid kits is not an acceptable practical extension of paragraph 4 (and may in any event be limited by national legislation). This is in part owing to the development of specific and widely used symbols to represent, for example, first aid (often a white cross on a green background, accompanied by the words ‘First Aid’). The benefits of restricting use of paragraph 4 and of employing other appropriate signs (such as a suitable first-aid sign) for aid stations and ambulances are addressed in para. 2694.
- For example, a State may wish to stipulate further supervisory procedures or to exclude such use entirely. For instance, in the United Kingdom, no third-party organizations are permitted to use the emblem in this way.
- A plain reading of the text may give the impression that any National Society can provide authorization, but it is clear that the intention is to confer this responsibility on the National Society of the territory in question.
- For example, in the National Society emblem survey, the Swiss Red Cross reported that the red cross emblem is used on free first-aid tents at major events (which appears to conform to Article 44(4)). The survey also revealed that the purpose and application of this paragraph may not be well understood; for example, while several National Societies reported that they had authorized certain third parties to use the emblem in conformity with paragraph 4, further information revealed that many of these cases concerned services delivered by a government department or a public body or by entities controlled by or affiliated with the National Society (in some instances a fee was also charged).
- In one case, such improper use is enshrined in an international treaty. The 1968 UN Convention on Road Signs and Signals (as well the 1971 European Agreement supplementing the Convention) includes two road signs that wrongly display the emblem: the first is a road sign for first-aid stations and the second is a road sign for civilian hospitals. These road signs are in use in some countries, including Norway and Sweden. The ICRC considers that these provisions of the UN Convention are not in conformity with the rules on the use of the emblem under the Geneva Conventions (including Article 44(4)), and has recommended that they be modified. As a practical measure, National Societies should encourage their authorities to use the alternative formal sign for civilian hospitals endorsed by the UN Convention (this being a white capital ‘H’ on a blue background), and to use a different road sign for first-aid stations, such as the first-aid symbol (a white cross on a green background). See ICRC, Study on the Use of the Emblems, pp. 195–202.
- In its Study on the Use of the Emblems, p. 191, the ICRC recommends that National Societies be ‘extremely cautious’ when considering such authorization under Article 44(4).
- For example, in several countries a number of organizations are involved in the provision of and training in first aid. These can include, for instance, the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society or the Order of St John (Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom). Many countries have no public ambulance service and may rely purely on private organizations (whether commercial or voluntary) to fulfil this function; others may have a single public service, or use a combination of public and private providers.
- For example, in the European Union (EU), the official sign for first aid is the white cross on a green ground, normally accompanied by the words ‘First Aid’. The European Council Directive 92/58/EEC standardized the appearance of safety signs, including those relating to first aid, across the EU.
- The star of life is a blue, six-pointed star with a white border and the ‘rod of Aesculapius’ (the symbol associated with medical and health care) in the centre of the star. Originally developed in the United States, the star of life is used to mark emergency medical personnel and vehicles (including ambulances and their crews) in some countries, including Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
- For example, it would be very helpful for a National Society that provides first-aid services to display on all relevant materials and objects the appropriate official sign for first aid. This could appear in addition to the logo of the National Society (which normally includes the red cross or red crescent emblem, as appropriate, and the Society’s name). Such use by the National Society would help to prevent a misconception that the emblem is a general sign of first aid, and also encourage greater use of the first-aid sign by other first-aid providers in their country (thereby helping to discourage improper use of the emblem). This practice is, for example, employed by the British Red Cross Society, and strongly encouraged by the UK Ministry of Defence. It is also recommended by the ICRC (First Aid in Armed Conflicts and Other Situations of Violence, pp. 27–28).
See the Commentary of 1952
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