My class visited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today and it was really informative! I had no idea international humanitarian law was so complex and interesting. We watched a short video, had two speakers, an amazing lunch in the Red Cross cafeteria, and a tour of their museum.
Did you know that there are actually three symbols used by the organization? The two pictured that hang over the building (Red Cross and Red Crescent), and the Red Crystal are all official symbols. Apparently Israel couldn't be part of the Red Cross/Crescent because it thought the symbols were too religious and they didn't like that, so it asked if they could use a Red Crystal. It's the only country to use it, which is apparently why the organization doesn't have it flying with the other two symbols. The Red Cross is actually just a flipping of colours of the Swiss Flag, and is not meant to have religious connotations. The Ottoman Empire thought Red Cross workers looked like crusaders, so they inverted their flag colours to create the Red Crescent in the mid 1800s.
I think it's really interesting that people are highly critical of the Red Cross, but often don't know a lot about it. First of all, it's a private Swiss-based organization. It also was created to treat fallen soldiers on the battlefield regardless of side. It prefers to operate largely confidentially (which is often deemed controversial) and the ICRC has special rights in international humanitarian law. It does a lot more than I initially thought-- and the visit changed my opinion in a positive way. I'm really interested in the rules of warfare and what is acceptable in different circumstances, so it was a neat visit.