Monday, September 8, 2008

The International Red Cross Emblem: Off Limits in Airsoft?

Ever since the high-profile rescue operation of Ingrid Betancourt from her FARC captors, a legal row erupted over the misuse of the Red Cross symbol. Does this now include Airsoft military-simulation game scenarios?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since that dramatic hostage-rescue operation of former Columbian Green party presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt together with 14 other hostages from their FARC captors became headline news back in July 2, 2008, a somewhat relatively esoteric aspect of international law also gained headline news exposure. Namely the law about prohibiting the misuse of the International Red Cross’ Red Cross emblem.

The Columbian Military’s use of the Red Cross emblem in Operation Jaque as a rouse to rescue Columbian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt constitutes as a “war crime” under the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law. That specific stunt could endanger humanitarian workers in the future according to international legal expert Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association. According to Ellis: “It is clear that the conventions are very strict regarding use of the symbol because of what it represents: impartiality and neutrality”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross - or Comité International de la Croix-Rouge as the ICRC is known in the Francophone world - was founded by Jean Henri Dunant in Geneva, Switzerland back in 1864. Jean Henri Dunant also founded the Geneva Convention and is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1901. As a neutral spectator at the Battle of Solferino in Italy on June 24, 1859, Dunant witnessed first hand the horrors of war. When at the day’s end, the battleground was littered with some 40,000 dead and wounded victims of the conflict. Horrified by the suffering of the unattended men, Dunant organized groups of volunteers to serve them. Brought supplies for the soldiers’ use, and worked personally as attendant and nurse. His experience of the war has made him decide to form a humanitarian organization, which will later become the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A few years later, Dunant finally managed to organize a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in August 8 – 22, 1864 attended by official delegations of European nations. At this meeting the Geneva Convention of 1864 for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick of Armies in the Field was adopted and signed by 12 of the nations represented. Thus, the Red Cross was born. In honor of Dunant’s nationality, a “red cross on a white background” – the Swiss flag with the colors reversed – was chosen as the symbol.

A group of prominent Swiss citizens who were instrumental in arranging the Geneva meeting became organized as the International Committee of the Red Cross. It’s functions include the recognition of new national Red Cross societies; working for the development and observance of international humanitarian agreements – especially the Geneva conventions. Acting as a neutral intermediary in time of war or internal strife to ensure the victims of such conflicts of protection and assistance; and in particular serving the welfare of prisoners of war, making appropriate recommendations for ameliorating their condition.

In 1867 the first International Red Cross Conference was held in Paris. Regular meetings of this highest deliberative body of the Red Cross are held normally once every four years. Its membership is composed of representatives of the national societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the League of Red Cross Societies, and the governments that are signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The humanitarian effort of the International Committee of the Red Cross has earned them scores of accolades. The ICRC has won a number of times the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1917, in 1944, and in 1963.

As a prestigious humanitarian organization, the ICRC is very serious with regards to the issue of misuse of the Red Cross emblem. Over the years, there are incidences of violation of this relatively esoteric legal issue. Like the ICRC ‘s pending legal dispute over a multinational drug company who insists of using the Red Cross emblem as a “mere” branding logo of it's products. Also, Back in the mid-1980’s, the Philippine National Red Cross threatened to sue Tommy Tanchanco – founder of the long-defunct Philippine punk rock record label called Twisted Red Cross (TRC) – in court for using the International Red Cross emblem on his TRC products and tapes. Tommy, being a son of an influential ex-government minister, just brushed the threat aside. After all every Twisted Red Cross or TRC punk rocker knows that the TRC record label logo is actually a red colored “X” set over a white circle as background.

In the Airsoft world, there seems to be a “tacit compliance” with regards to the proper use of the Red Cross emblem that managed to permeate globally in airsoft military simulation games. Every team I’ve witnessed first hand so far, even those from far away who posted their Airsoft gaming activities on the web – either via still photos or YOUTUBE – had never misused the International Red Cross symbol. In my place, players with medical degrees or has a medical profession often volunteer as ad hoc medics / "Corpsmen" during Airsoft military-simulation games don’t wear ICRC armbands. Is this just because ICRC armbands are well-regulated commodities? Not even lapel pins designating what kind of Medical Corps they belong to. For all intents and purposes some of them probably belong to the Veterinary Corps.

Humor aside, it seems that the global Airsoft gaming community – so far – has been tacitly policing themselves with regards to the proper use of the Red Cross emblem in military simulation games. I just hope that it stays this way for years to come. But to be sure, I’m doing my part of spreading awareness on the proper use of the Red Cross emblem. If you’re reading this, please kindly spread the message to your local Airsoft gaming community.


Geraldine said...

The recent fiasco of Operation Jaque and the misuse of the ICRC / Comité International de la Croix Rouge emblem only highlights the fact that the supposedly "good guys" - the Columbian Army who rescued Ingrid Betancourt - can be as bad as the FARC when it comes to the concept of "fair play". Does the ICRC guidelines and the Geneva Conventions seen as just mere "words on paper" to these guys? To me, it's only a matter of time that the ICRC 's third protocol emblem - the "contemporary cool" Red Cristal enclosing the Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) will be used by some unscrupulous Airsoft gun and gear manufacturer.

Michelle said...

After visiting several International Committee of the Red Cross - or Comité International de la Croix Rouge to us here in the Francophone world - sites on the web, I think there's more to the story bhind the adoption and evolution of various "quasi-religious" emblems currently in use today. The ICRC story / evolution "conveniently" left out - though it tacitly implied - the "Empire Building" and "Empire Extinction" aspects that run parallel to ICRC 's development. Like the Red Lion and Sun emblem that signifies the "virtually extinct" Shah of Iran's Persian Empire that was driven to extinction by the establishment of the Ayatullah Khomeini's Shia Islamic Republic of Iran. Due to this "revolutionary upheaval" Iran adopted the Red Crescent symbol. And at present Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinejad now threatens to wipe Israel of the map.