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International Red Cross Accuses Colombia Of Misusing Emblem


The International Committee of the Red Cross accuses the Colombian government of, what it says, appears to have been a deliberate misuse of the Red Cross emblem during the operation on July 2 to free 15 hostages held by the FARC rebels. The Red Cross calls this a violation of international humanitarian law. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross deplores, what it calls, the apparent improper use of the Red Cross emblem during the daring rescue mission.

Red Cross Chief Spokesman, Florian Westphal, tells VOA video footage aired this week on Colombian television reveals a different story from that told by the Colombian authorities last month. He says the video shows a member of the army team involved in the rescue mission was wearing a bib marked with the Red Cross emblem before the operation had even begun.

"That suggests an intentional misuse," Westphal said. "The earlier information that we have had was that, from the government in Colombia, was that, yes, one member of the team had worn such a bib. But, that this had only occurred during the operation and in an unplanned and unauthorized way. So, this obviously changes things somewhat and raises our level of concern, which is why we have again asked the Colombian authorities for further clarification."

Colombian military agents were widely praised for the daring and successful operation that freed former presidential candidate, Ingrid Bettancourt, and 14 other hostages held for years by the FARC rebels.

Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe apologized to the Red Cross in July after footage showed a member of the rescue team was wearing the Red Cross Emblem. He said it was a mistake by a nervous soldier. The president renewed his apologies to the Red Cross after the unedited video was released this week.

Florian Westphal says the use of the Red Cross symbol in a military operation violates the first Geneva Convention. He says its misuse can endanger aid workers in the field.

"If there is a perception among combatants, fighters, etc. that actually the Red Cross does not represent any longer a neutral humanitarian endeavor, but possibly may be used by the enemy to win some sort of military advantage, yes, this could be a very concrete problem for us, but also our colleagues of the national Red Cross societies who very often take considerable risks to be able to actually bring help to their people affected by war," Westphal said.

Westphal says the Red Cross can only operate effectively if all sides to a conflict trust it and believe it is a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling on the Colombian government to take action against those responsible for misusing the symbol.