Three men positioning the protection symbol of the red cross to a roof in the sunlight.

Red cross – a symbol that protects

Photo: Suomen Punainen Risti

A red cross against a white background is an international protection symbol used for providing protection for medical services and Red Cross relief workers in armed conflicts.

The red cross and the red crescent are also the organisation symbols of the International Red Cross and its national societies. This is why the Finnish Red Cross can use the symbol in its operations under certain restrictions.

Buildings, vehicles and people marked with a red cross, red crescent or red crystal must be protected and respected under all circumstances.

This means that the red cross is not a general symbol of first aid or medical care that anyone can freely use. The use of the symbol is closely regulated even in peacetime, and abuse of the protection symbol is a crime.

What is a protection symbol?

Few people know that the special mission of the red cross symbol is to protect medical services in wars and conflicts. In conflict situations, the red cross protects authorised aid workers, medical units and transports and their employees and patients. It also protects the relief work of the International Red Cross.

In some countries, the red crescent symbol is used instead of the red cross. A third protection symbol, the red crystal, can be used in situations and countries where the use of the other two symbols is problematic due to notions related to religion or politics.

Buildings, vehicles and people marked with a red cross, red crescent or red crystal must be protected and respected under all circumstances. No kind of military action can be carried out under the symbol.

Who can use the red cross protection symbol?

The use of the red cross symbol is regulated in detail in the laws of war, i.e. the Geneva Conventions, and in the national legislation of states committed to them. Finland is committed to the Geneva Conventions: the protection symbol of the red cross is owned by the state and a symbol of the medical services of our defence forces.

The Geneva Conventions were created at the initiative of the Red Cross established to aid victims of war. This is why the International Red Cross – in addition to the states committed to the Conventions – also has the right to use the protection symbol under all circumstances.

In wars and conflicts, the protection symbol of the red cross is available to:

• Medical services of the armed forces
• International Committee of the Red Cross
• International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
• Medical personnel, vehicles and hospitals operating under and authorised by the authorities.

During peacetime, the protection symbol is available to:

• Medical services of the armed forces
• International Committee of the Red Cross
• International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In Finland, free-of-charge ambulances and first aid stations can receive a special permission to use the red cross during peacetime. The permission is granted by Valvira with the consent of the Finnish Red Cross.

The Red Cross can use the symbol in its operations

The Red Cross organisation does not own the protection symbol, even though it is allowed to use it in its operations under certain restrictions.

Due to the origin of the protection symbol, the International Red Cross Movement has the right to use it to mark its operations. As a part of the world organisation, the Finnish Red Cross is entitled to use the red cross in its operations, but not without limitations. Usually, the cross symbol is relatively small and accompanied by the name of the organisation.

The symbol alone is used to mark the medical first aid duty operations of the Finnish Red Cross. The Finnish Red Cross can also use the red cross symbol without the organisation name in its official flag, banner and badge.

Others do not have the right to use the red cross.

In Finland, the use of the red cross during peacetime is regulated by the 1979 act on the use of certain internationally protected symbols.

The unauthorised use of the red cross in advertising, medicine packages, pharmacies and in other marketing, toys or entertainment is forbidden. Also, the use of a symbol that is similar to the red cross is forbidden. This applies to private individuals, organisations and companies as well as the authorities.

The Finnish state monitors the use of the red cross. The Finnish Red Cross assists it by increasing awareness on the use of the symbol and intervening in misuse.

If you see instances of misuse of the red cross symbol, take a photo and send it to info(at)redcross.fi. Thank you for caring.

The operations of the Red Cross are steered by seven fundamental principles.
The principles of the Red Cross