The Red Cross Emblem

The red cross emblem is one of the most recognised symbols in the world. Its use is governed by international and national law.


What is the red cross emblem?

The red cross emblem is one of the most recognised symbols in the world. Many think that the red cross is an international sign for medical assistance or first aid. This is true – but only when used in special circumstances by approved agencies.

During armed conflict, the red cross emblem is a visible sign of the protection for the wounded and sick, and those caring for them, conferred by international humanitarian law (the ‘laws of war’). In these circumstances, the emblem means “Don’t shoot” or “Don’t loot” or “Don’t harm” this person, site, building, vehicle or equipment. It shows that whoever or whatever carries the emblem lawfully is providing or receiving medical assistance and is not part of the conflict, and therefore must be protected.

The emblem can also show that a person or an object is linked to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. As such, the emblem symbolises the independent, neutral and impartial assistance delivered by the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.


Who can display the emblems?

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1977 Additional Protocols, national laws in 200 countries and internal regulations of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement all say the red cross can only be used by permission, for humanitarian purposes.

Marshall Islands is no different. The organisations allowed to use the red cross emblem in Marshall Islands are the medical and religious services of the military and the Marshall Islands Red Cross Society.

Because the red cross is so unique and important, the use by Marshall Islands Red Cross Society is also strictly regulated, even in its humanitarian activities.

Marshall Islands has an Act of Parliament, MIRCS ACT 2013, regulating the use of the red cross

It states that the MIRCS “shall use its distinctive logo and seal consisting of the heraldic sign of the red cross on a white background accompanied by the words ‘Marshall Islands Red Cross Society’”

The same Act confers upon MIRCS the duty to help monitor and prevent misuse of the red cross and the other distinctive emblems in RMI.

– PART V, Section 11 (3) states: Any use of the red cross emblem and name other than foreseen in the Geneva Conventions or in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the present Section, or of any other emblem, sign, signal or designation protected under international humanitarian law, is prohibited and shall be punished in accordance with Section 12 of this Act and with any other applicable laws of the Republic.

– PART V, Section 12, says it is a criminal offence for any unauthorized person to use the red cross emblem. Anyone who commits this offence shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $1000.00 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both.


Why is it important to protect the emblem?

This life-saving symbol needs to be understood and trusted by all so that it can protect those suffering during armed conflict or humanitarian crises. It is important to ensure that the emblem is used correctly so that people and communities understand its purpose, and trust what the emblem stands for. Even in countries that are not experiencing armed conflict, misuse can impair the emblem’s image and reputation globally, and may weaken its protective effect.

If an emergency strikes, including civil unrest or a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a major flood, people need to know that the staff and volunteers that display the emblem while responding to the affected communities are neutral, independent and impartial – values and principles associated with the red cross emblem – and grant them safe access.

In Marshall Islands, any misuse of the emblem directly undermines its legitimate use by Marshall Islands Red Cross Society in its day-to-day humanitarian activities, potentially causing confusion about Red Cross activities or reputation locally.


What is emblem misuse?

Misuse of the red cross emblem includes any unauthorised appearance of a red cross on a white background, or any symbol so closely resembling the red cross emblem that it could be mistaken for one.

The most common forms of misuse occur in the medical and pharmaceutical fields and in the retail and advertising sectors, as a red cross is often used to draw attention to a product. Any such misuse is illegal.


How can you help?

You can help ensure that the red cross emblem is not used in ways for which it was not intended. If you see the emblem being used by people or organisations that are not entitled to do so, please get in touch with Marshall Islands Red Cross Society. In most cases, those that misuse the emblems are simply not aware of the purpose of and laws around the emblem and how it may be used.

Alternative symbols may be appropriate to prevent confusion and misuse. For example, the medical community could use one of the many internationally recognised signs to identify ambulances, hospitals, first aid posts and pharmacies, e.g. a blue cross or green cross.