Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 3:12 pm, 1st April 2009

That is true, and for that reason I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the further provision in article 18:

"In view of the dangers to which hospitals"— and, presumably, mobile facilities and ships—

"may be exposed by being close to military objectives, it is recommended that such hospitals be situated as far as possible from such objectives."

The convention makes it clear that the eventualities described by my right hon. and hon. Friends are less likely to occur if adequate precautions are taken.

The plain red cross or red crescent flag is primarily used to identify medical units for military forces, as provided by the 1864 and subsequent Geneva conventions. I have referred to the 1957 Act which supports the conventions. If I had more time, I would like to speak about the 1997 Act, but it would not please the House were I to continue for too long, so I shall not go into that in any great detail.

Although national Governments may authorise red cross or red crescent societies to use the flag provided, there is no possibility of confusion with the primary use of the flag. The convention also allows the various international Red Cross organisations, such as the ICRC and IFRC, to use the symbols as I described earlier. Therefore, the plain red cross is not a unique identifier of the ICRC. The basic right to use the red cross and red crescent flags does not derive from either of those organisations—it is the inherent right of all states that are party to the Geneva convention of 1949.

Having said that, there has always been some disagreement. I mentioned the disagreement that followed the original arrangements, when there was a tension between the members and the Ottoman empire, which led to the compromise of the red crescent, but there have been many disagreements—almost for the whole life of the conventions—about the precise use of the red cross and, subsequently, the red crescent, and indeed about symbols per se.

Earlier in the debate, my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight talked about the possibility of many emblems being used and the confusion that might ensue. That specific suggestion has been made over the years by several states, not in order to cause confusion, but as a means of representing national interests in those parts of the world where the use of a crescent or cross might be seen to be invidious. We could speak at some length about Israel in that regard. There has been significant tension, because Israel would prefer to use a variation on the star of David. Of course, the obvious difficulty with that route is that it is Israel's national emblem—indeed, it is on its national flag—and the confusion that that would cause speaks for itself. The virtue of the red cross and the red crescent is that they are detached from the symbols of nation states; they have the universality that I describe.

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