Practice Relating to Rule 59. Improper Use of the Distinctive Emblems of the Geneva Conventions
Sweden’s IHL Manual (1991) considers that the “prohibition of improper use of recognized emblems”, as contained in Article 38 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, is part of customary international law.
The manual also states:
In land combat it is not unusual for one of the parties to attempt to win a tactical advantage by concealing the character of his own forces prior to attack, in order to mislead or surprise the adversary. The distinctive emblem of the Red Cross or similar organization … may not, however, be used for such purposes. In IV Hague Convention it is forbidden to use these emblems improperly. The expression improperly is not defined but follows indirectly from the Geneva Convention articles (GC I Art. 44, GC II Art. 41) relative to permitted use.
Sweden’s Emblems and Signs Act (1953), as amended in 1994, provides:
The Red Cross emblem, consisting of a red cross on a white background, or the name “Red Cross” or “Geneva Cross”, may not be publicly used other than as a distinctive emblem of military medical services or for military religious personnel or in such cases as specified in Section 2.
The international Red Cross organizations are entitled to use the distinctive emblem and name as specified in Section 1. The same shall apply to foreign national associations, which in their own country have the right publicly to use the emblem or the name.
Having obtained the permission of the Government, the Swedish Red Cross and other Swedish associations, whose purpose it is to provide assistance in military medical services in wartime, may use the aforesaid emblem and name. The distinctive emblem specified above may, with the permission of the Government, be used as a distinctive emblem for civilian medical services in wartime and for rescue services along the coasts.
Under Sweden’s Penal Code (1962), as amended in 1998, misuse of insignia referred to in the Emblems and Signs Act as amended, including the red cross, constitutes a crime against international law.