The Bill aims to establish appropriate use and naming for the red cross, the red crescent and the red crystal; to avoid their misuse, and bring Myanmar in line with international regulations.
History of emblems
A year after publishing Henry Dunant’s “A Memory of Solferino” in 1862, a five-member committee which would become the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) met for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1864, the Geneva Convention was signed by government representatives from 12 countries, establishing the principles of caring for injured soldiers, whatever side they were on, and introducing a unified emblem for the neutrality of medical services: a red cross on a white background.
In 1929 following the World War I, representatives from Turkey, Persia and Egypt proposed the emblems of the red crescent and the red lion and sun to a Diplomatic Conference and the symbols was also afforded protection. Iran, however, abandoned the right to use the red lion and sun emblem in 1980 for the red crescent. Later, Israel requested the use of a red crystal, and the 2005 Diplomatic Conference accepted the request as a Third Additional Protocol in the 1949 Geneva Convention. (ICRC, 2019)
Currently, 151 countries use the red cross emblem to signify the national red cross society, the red crescent is used in a further 31 countries.
Myanmar and the red cross emblem
The Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) started operations in 1929 as a branch of the Indian Red Cross Society. After Myanmar formally separated from India in 1937, the MRCS separated and was recognised by the ICRC in 1939. The Society became a member of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in 1946. According to the 2017 Annual Report of the MRCS, there were 330 township branches, 630 national society staff, 8209 active volunteers and 552 youth members.
There were two Myanmar Red Cross Society laws, the existing one approved in 2015, and later amended with the Myanmar Red Cross Society Amendment Law in 2018.
Relating to the use of the red cross emblem, the Geneva Convention Implementation Act has existed since 1936, and the current bill was submitted to replace the Act.
Behind the submission of the bill
The decision behind the submission of this Bill, at this time, warrants some scrutiny. It seems questionable that the motivation was to update the 1936 Act.
Myanmar ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1992. The purpose of the conventions was to oblige government during conflict to protect non-combatants (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick, shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war). It could be assumed, therefore, that this new Bill is intended to codify in national law Myanmar’s international obligations. However, if this is the case, it is worth questioning why a Bill has not been introduced to implement the entirety of the Conventions and its related protocol, rather than only that part relating to the use of emblem.
Although the Bill is not yet on the floor of the Hluttaw for discussion, the timing of its submission happens to coincide with a fatal attack on two ambulance vehicles in Northern Shan in recent weeks. However, even this explanation for the timing of the Bill reason is not entirely convincing, as there have been many similar events in the past.
Whatever the reasons are, along with an update to the use of the emblems, the bill incorporates some provisions which could also reduce their misuse.
There are well-established principles for the domestic implementation of international agreements, including the Geneva Conventions. For example, of officials should monitor and supervise the use of the red cross emblem and determine how its use needs permission.
In looking at the current Bill, the permission for the use of emblems differs based on kind of uses – preventive or indicative. For the indicative purpose, the use can be allowed by the MRCS, but the preventive use is allowed by the Minsitry of Defence (MoD) or the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS).
In order to help the military medical teams, civilian medical teams require prior permission from the MoD. To help the injured and sick during armed conflicts, the MoHS must also negotiate with the MoD.
Currently, as Myanmar is torn with the prolonged civil war, there should be no hesitation in helping local people, the internally displaced and any others caught up in conflict. Unnecessary hesitation could lead to worsening injury and loss of life. Therefore, to hasten the provision of life-saving care in wartime, permission, if required, should be simply applied for in one place, whether the MoHS or the MRCS.
To conclude, it is suggested that the above points should be reconsidered to be in line with the essence of the Geneva Convention.
75th Myanmar Red Cross Society: Diamond Jubilee Magazine 1939-2014 - https://www.redcross.org.mm/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Diamond-Jubilee-Magazine-1939-2014-MRCS.pdf
Myanmar Red Cross Society: 2017 Annual Report - https://www.redcross.org.mm/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Myanmar-Red-Cross-Society-2017-ANNUAL-REPORT.pdf
ICRC – The Domestic Implementation of International Humanitarian Law: A Manual - https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-4028.pdf