YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - The Red Cross said its emblem is being illegally used in the violence-plagued northern part of Cameroon, where Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has spilled over, as well as the troubled eastern border with the Central African Republic.
The agency's emblem is distinctive: A red cross emblazoned against a white background, the original symbol declared at the 1864 Geneva Convention to mark and protect individuals and objects that provide humanitarian aid in armed conflict zones.
It has also become one of several symbols of the National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
Misuses of emblem
But Nicolas Mbako, director of operational development at the Cameroon Red Cross, said some humanitarian agencies operating in Boko Haram conflict zones in northern Cameroon and its eastern border region are using the emblem without authorization from the Red Cross.
Mbako said the misuses include imitation, usurpation and perfidy, which is using an emblem in times of war to deceive an enemy.
He said the danger that arises from such illegal use is the reduction of the protective value of the emblem and thus putting in peril all humanitarian assistance.
Cameroon said its eastern border is home to about 200,000 Central African refugees and northern Cameroon hosts close to 80,000 people fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency and 100,000 internally displaced persons.
Relief agencies and humanitarian groups deploy in the area to help.
Emmerencia Moussa of Cameroon Self Reliance, a relief agency helping the refugees, said they pose as Red Cross volunteers to avoid a possible attack from insurgents or Cameroonian soldiers who might mistake them for attackers.
"Nobody has ever told us not to use the Red Cross signal and when we use it no body disturbs us. We put it in our cars, we put it in our office and no body disturbs us," Moussa said.
Mireille Titi of Cameroon Red Cross said the illegal use may lead to a distrust of the emblem.
Titi said if the abusive use of the Red Cross emblem continues, their volunteers may be targeted in conflict zones by rebels, fighters and even regular armies when they will lose confidence and trust of the emblem.
According to regulations governing the Red Cross societies, the Red Cross emblem is meant to show that persons or objects are linked to the Movement.
For those not associated with the Movement, the regulations stipulate that a distinction, authorized by the Red Cross, must be made to indicate persons or objects not linked to its societies.