Colombia Misused Red Cross Symbol in Betancourt Rescue
The daring rescue of Ingrid Betancourt from FARC terrorists misused the Red Cross symbol in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
A member of the military mission that tricked Colombian rebels into freeing 15 hostages wore the insignia of the International Red Cross during the operation, President Alvaro Uribe said Wednesday.
Mr. Uribe said his government had apologized to the Red Cross for the incident, which he called an unauthorized error by a nervous soldier. “An officer mistakenly and contrary to orders … put a piece of cloth on his vest that carried the symbol of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Mr. Uribe said in a speech in Bogota.
A fleeting image of a portion of the cloth is visible in video taken of the operation by an agent posing as a cameraman that was officially released.
Use of the Red Cross symbol in such a military operation would appear to violate the Geneva Conventions that protect the relief organization’s reputation for neutrality in conflicts.
There’s no “appear” to it.
One hesitates to overstate matters given the stakes involved. The rescue of these hostages is an unmitigated good. Further, I believe Uribe when he says it was done contrary to orders.
Still, this is a serious matter. Having soldiers pose as relief workers or journalists is illegal because, otherwise, no one would recognize the sanctity of those people and they would be in danger. Using the Red Cross is particularly egregious because it could deny captured soldiers and their families the benefits of visits to ensure humane treatment.
Recall Clara Barton’s words from 1878:
A confederation of Relief Societies in different countries, acting under the Geneva Convention, carries on its work under the sign of the Red Cross. The aim of these societies is to ameliorate the condition of wounded soldiers in the armies in campaign on land or sea, and to furnish relief in cases of great national calamity.
The societies had their rise in the conviction of certain philanthropic men, that the official sanitary service in wars is usually insufficient, and that the charity of the people, which at such times exhibits itself munificently, should be organized for the best possible utilization. An International Public Conference was called at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1863, which, though it had not an official character, brought together representatives from a number of governments. At this conference a treaty was drawn up, afterwards remodeled and improved, which twenty-five governments have signed.
The treaty provides for the neutrality of all sanitary supplies, ambulances, surgeons, nurses, attendants, and the sick or wounded men, and their safe conduct, when they bear the sign of the organization, viz: the Red Cross.
This only works if people trust that only legitimate relief workers seek sanctuary behind the Red Cross symbol.
Woodrow Wilson Red Cross Poster: Sparacus Education: Red Cross