Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 16:09 UK

Way paved for Red Crystal symbol

Red crystal symbol
The red crystal symbol was adopted internationally in 2007

A new "red crystal" humanitarian symbol will gain the same status as the "red cross" and "red crescent" emblems under legislation going through the Commons.

The crystal can be used in certain war zones where the cross or crescent is inappropriate for religious reasons.

Junior Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron said the crystal could be used as a "clear and neutral" symbol.

She told MPs the crystal was already widely accepted, as 38 states had already ratified its use.

Medical units

Ms Merron was opening debate on the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill at its second reading.

She said: "Conflicts have become ever more complex and the scope for misunderstanding of these emblems has undoubtedly increased.

"In some situations the red crescent and the red cross perhaps can be seen as having a religious, cultural or political connotation which is not appropriate, not accurate, nor is it intended in the settings in which it is used.

"The red crystal has been introduced to ensure a clear and neutral symbol which exists for all to use."

Ms Merron said, for example, British forces' medical units in Afghanistan or Iraq could use the red crystal symbol if they thought it would improve their safety.

Protective sign

David Lidington, for the Conservatives, said he did not want the crystal to replace the red cross completely.

"I hope that they will stick to the tried and trusted symbol which I believe the overwhelming majority of the British public respect and value regardless of the ethnic and religious traditions of those men and women," he said.

Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson said: "I'm pleased there seems to be cross-party consensus that this is the right way forward."

The red crystal became an official symbol of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in 2007 as a compromise after Israel's red Star of David was not accepted as protective sign for relief workers.

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