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Red Cross symbol used during Betancourt rescue

Article published on the 2008-07-17 Latest update 2008-07-17 09:52 TU

Alvaro Uribe.(Photo : AFP)

Alvaro Uribe.
(Photo : AFP)

President Alvaro Uribe admitted on Wednesday that the Colombian army used the emblem of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during the mission which freed 15 hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, from the Farc guerrilla movement. The use of this symbol by military forces is forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.

Despite earlier official denials, Uribe explained that during the mission one army official wore a vest with the red cross of the ICRC on it because he was nervous and that there were many guerrillas around.

“The official took a piece of cloth out of his pocket with the initials CICR [ICRC in Spanish] on it, and he put it on his vest. We are sorry that this has happened,” Uribe said.

The ICRC denounced the misleading use of its symbol in a press release, writing that it is “a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization, [and] must enjoy the trust of all the parties to the conflict to be able to carry out its work.”

The red cross, red crescent and new red crystal emblems are internationally recognised as marking neutral and protected parties during conflicts by the Geneva conventions.

The ICRC specifies on its website that “perfidious use of the emblem is a war crime in both international and noninternational armed conflict. Misuse of the emblem for protective purposes in time of war jeopardizes the system of protection set up by International Humanitarian Law.”

The Lawyer of Gerardo Aguilar and Alexander Farfan, the two Farc members captured in the operation, said his clients were tricked by the soldiers’ use of the red cross emblem.

“The army pretended to be the International Red Cross, and that three or four people in the operation used Red Cross emblems,” the lawyer Rodolfo Rios told French news agency AFP.

The first indications that the emblem had been used during the operation surfaced on the US telveision channel CNN, which reported that the symbol was visible in unpublished photos and video of the rescue.

Hours after the 2 July rescue, while standing aside Uribe, General Mario Montoya publicly denied that the humanitarian organisation’s emblem had been used.

The ICRC continues to work in Colombia to free the estimated 700 remaining Farc hostages. It is unclear if the misuse of their emblem will affect their efforts.