Videogames and the Red Cross (Updated)

Videogames and the Red Cross (Updated)

Lest Roger win the competition for the most unusual story of the day, is reporting that the Red Cross has been contacting videogame developers to protest the use of its symbols in their games. Such use is widespread:

Just about every video game that involves combat uses the Red Cross symbol in some form or fashion. From medical kits and first-aid stations to ambulances, the familiar red cross is a universal symbol in real life and games for aid. Even MMORPGs like EverQuest use a red cross-type emblem to symbolize healing spells.

According to Michael Meyer, head of the British Red Cross’s international law section, “[t]he use of the emblem in videogames is both illegal and detrimental to the special protective value of the emblem.” The Red Cross has yet to file suit against a developer, and would prefer not to:

We would be willing to work with a videogame manufacturer to produce a game which shows the emblem in its correct use, as a symbol of protection during armed conflict, and where the player is rewarded for using the emblem correctly. Such a game could reward the player for respecting the rules of war and thereby, help the Red Cross Movement with its work to promote such respect.

As a (somewhat facetious) side note, I assume that, by “illegal,” the Red Cross does not mean that a videogame developer commits a war crime by using its emblem in a videogame. Article 8(2)(b)(vii)-4 of the ICC Statute, the war crime of improper use of distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions, prohibits using the red cross “for combatant purposes in a manner prohibited under the international law of armed conflict.” An essential element of the crime, however, is that “[t]he conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an international armed conflict.” Presumably, virtual conflicts don’t qualify — no matter how good the graphics.

UPDATE: Dave Glazier, a regular contributor to the must-read Intel Dump blog and a research fellow at Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, provides a much more detailed explanation of the potential criminal liability a videogame developer faces if it misuses the Red Cross emblem. I’ve edited his comment solely for readability:

[T]he video game use of the Red Cross is likely illegal in most countries, but it is national laws that are being violated, not the law of war per se. Article 27 of the 1906 Geneva Convention required state parties to enact legislation criminalizing use of the Red Cross emblem by anyone other than the ICRC and national Red Cross societies as a separate matter from the criminalization of the perfidious use of the emblem in time of war. In the United States this requirement was met through the enactment of what is now 18 U.S.C. 706, making such use punishable by six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. (Pre-existing commercial use of the red cross symbol was grandfathered, however, which is why Johnson & Johnson can continue to use the red cross on products it has manufactured for a century, but can not on new developments like liquid bandages). While nothing like the penalties a warrior might face for abuse of the red cross emblem on the battlefield, it still should get the attention of game developers who presumably are accustomed to at worst facing the prospect of civil suits over potential intellectual property infringement.

For those interested in exploring the topic further, an article published by the Red Cross itself is available here.

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