Practice Relating to Rule 59. Improper Use of the Distinctive Emblems of the Geneva Conventions
Colombia’s Instructors’ Manual (1999) states that it is a punishable offence “to use improperly insignia, flags and emblems of the Red Cross”.
Colombia’s Operational Law Manual (2009) states:
4. Rules for the conduct of hostilities
c. Restrictions on the means and methods
The means and methods of warfare that can be used are limited. …
… [A]mong the methods that are prohibited under IHL, it is important to underline the following ones:
- the absolute prohibition of the use of the distinctive emblems of the Red Cross, Red Crescent or Red Crystal[.]
[footnote in original omitted]
Colombia’s Emblem Decree (1998) provides: “All national authorities shall ensure, in all circumstances, strict respect for the norms concerning the proper use of the emblem of the Red Cross and the denomination ‘Red Cross’ and the distinctive signals.”
Colombia’s Emblem Law (2004) states:
Improper use of the emblem:
Improper Use means the use of the emblem of the red cross or the term “red cross” by persons not authorized under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, their Additional Protocols and the present law, as well as the use of any sign, signal or term that constitutes a limitation or may give rise to confusion, irrespective of the purpose of such use.
(emphasis in original)
Colombia’s Decree No. 138 (2005) states:
Improper use of the emblem:
This refers to the utilization of the protective emblem of the Red Cross or the term “Red Cross” by personnel not authorized under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, Law 875 of 2004 and the present decree, as well as the use of any other sign, signal or term that constitutes a limitation or that may give rise to confusion, irrespective of the objective of such use.
[emphasis in original]
In 1997, Colombia’s Council of State considered that the use of a medical vehicle for military operations was prohibited under IHL. The vehicles had been used to transport troops. The Council referred to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and to both 1977 Additional Protocols.
In a press release issued in 1996, Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern about the alleged misuse of the emblem. It reiterated its commitment to respect the relevant provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols.
In a 1996 study, Colombia’s Presidential Council for Human Rights underlined the importance for a newly developed manual for the armed forces to include provisions such as the following: “Penal or disciplinary sanctions shall be established [and] imposed on members of the public forces for the improper use of the emblem of the Red Cross.”
In 2008, in a statement regarding Operation Jaque, the President of Colombia stated:
The operation was disguised as a fictitious international humanitarian mission, which had its own web page and a telephone line. Throughout the planning of the operation, clear and imperative orders were given against impersonating international humanitarian organizations.
In previous planning meetings aimed at authorizing the operation, the Minister of Defence … , the … Commander General (of the Military Forces), the … Commander of the Army … and myself, clearly decided that international humanitarian organizations could not be impersonated.
After press news regarding the supposed use of the emblem of the International Red Cross, an internal investigation was ordered.
According to the results of this investigation, an officer acknowledged that, feeling nervous when he saw the number of armed guerrillas surrounding the helicopter, he, wrongly and in violation of the orders given, put over his vest a piece of fabric carrying the emblem of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
We regret that this happened.
The Minister of Defence … and senior commanders met this morning with a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in order to provide explanations and to apologise.
Following the legal investigations, and considering … that our men were not armed, did not fire nor could they have done so, that our contingents which were based nearby did not fire against the guerrillas who remained on land, that the officer acknowledged his mistake before his superiors, and considering other legal elements, I requested the … Commander General of the Military Forces … not to punish him. I assume the responsibility.
We will request that this officer … apologise before his colleagues in the operation … and, like ourselves in government, apologise to the International Committee of the Red Cross[.]