Red Cross to Add Third, Non-Religious Emblem

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has flown both Christian and Muslim religous emblems for more than a century. Now, the IFRC has adopted a red square standing on one corner, accomodating Israeli relief workers in the field. Renee Montagne talks to Peter Walker, director of the Famine Center at Tufts University.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has flown Christian and Muslim religious symbols for more than a century. Today, the governments within the Geneva Convention have agreed to allow a third symbol, a red diamond on a white background. That emblem will allow Israeli aid workers to be part of a global relief network. Peter Walker is a former director of the International Red Cross.

Good morning.

Mr. PETER WALKER (Former Director, International Red Cross): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: How did this come about, this change?

Mr. WALKER: Well, this goes right back to a very basic principle of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that everybody around the world should be able to benefit from its protective qualities. The problem is within Israel its relief society there felt unable to use the cross or the crescent as a symbol and, therefore, citizens of Israel weren't able to benefit from this. And really, the world has been seeking a solution since the formation of Israel, and at last we're come to one.

MONTAGNE: And has there been controversy about this?

Mr. WALKER: Oh, for sure in a number of ways. The most obvious is that for something to be a protective emblem it's got to be easily recognized and universal. And therefore, the more emblems you have, the less likely they are to be recognized. So in an ideal world, you'd just have one. Well, we've got the cross and crescent, not we've had to add a third: the red crystal. So that's been quite controversial. And it's also a matter of, if one country asks for a new symbol, why not another country and then another country and another country? So it's the precedent issue as well that's been controversial.

MONTAGNE: Although in a sense, we're talking religious symbols, not country symbols.

Mr. WALKER: Well, yes and no. I mean, the cross was never meant to be a religious Christian cross. It's the reverse of the Swiss flag. The crescent, likewise, was never meant to be a religious crescent. But the reality is that's how so many people see them today, and one has to deal with reality. It's about protecting people in real wars and real crises.

MONTAGNE: Well, just now--now this done, what is the good that will come out of it?

Mr. WALKER: Well, there are a number of things. Firstly, the relief society in Israel, which has been an observer member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, can now finally join as a full member. And that's great. The second thing, of course, is that citizens caught up in a conflict where the relief society of Israel is involved will now have the power of that protective emblem.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. WALKER: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Peter Walker is director of the Famine Center at Tufts University.

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