The red cross emblem came into existence more than 150 years ago when the Geneva Conventions adopted it to protect medical personnel assisting the wounded on the battlefield. Soon after, the emblem was also adopted to identify the humanitarian services of Red Cross societies around the world.
Today, it is one of the most recognized symbols in the world for a very important reason.
During armed conflict, the red cross emblem means “don’t shoot,” that this person, vehicle, building or equipment is not part of the fight but is providing impartial assistance. The emblem provides protection for military medical units, transportation of the wounded, and for the Red Cross's humanitarian aid. The global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement—including the American Red Cross—utilizes the emblem to signify our promise of voluntary, neutral and impartial assistance to all people in need, regardless of race, religion or citizenship status.
Countries around the world protect the red cross emblem and limit its use to official Red Cross organizations and programs, as well as the medical services of their armed forces. In the United States, only the American Red Cross and the medical corps of the Armed Forces are permitted by law to use the red cross emblem. Some U.S. companies were granted an exception that were already using the emblem before 1906. Use of the red cross emblem by anyone else is not only prohibited, but also unlawful in the United States and around the world.
Respecting the emblem protects humanitarians
Every day, Red Cross personnel work in regions experiencing disaster, health emergency and armed conflict. Their ability to safely carry out a humanitarian mission and provide help depends on the recognition of the meaning of the red cross emblem. This is as important in the United States as it is around the world.
The red cross emblem must remain universally recognized and respected throughout the world as a trusted symbol of protection, neutrality and humanitarian aid in the face of armed conflict and disaster. Red Cross workers put themselves at risk to help those suffering from disasters like hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, famine, disease and armed conflict around the world. They carry no weapons. Their only shield is the red cross emblem.
The emblem is a symbol of protection that international law gives to the wounded and sick, and those caring for them, in armed conflict. They convey to those fighting that they must not attack anyone or anything that displays these emblems.
When the emblem is misused, it puts humanitarian workers and medical personnel at risk. These teams depend on community trust—both during peacetime and during war. The emblem’s symbolism protects humanitarians and gives them access to places that may otherwise be inaccessible.
The American Red Cross is proud to wear the red cross emblem to respond to more than 60,000 disasters around the United States every year and to deliver aid around the globe.
The red crescent and red crystal
Though the red cross is meant to be a symbol of neutrality, some countries feel that it has religious, political or cultural connotations. To resolve perception issues, the Geneva Conventions have been amended to include the red crescent, the red crystal, and the red lion with sun. The latter is no longer in use.
Today, there are 192 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the globe. Together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), they serve humanity in times of greatest need. Teams wear the emblems to signify that help is on the way.