Red Cross impostors may be investigated

  • 2008-08-27
  • From wire reports

SAVE THE CHILDREN: Helpers are welcome, but volunteers must be careful not to use the Red Cross symbol.

TALLINN -  The Ministry of Defense may investigate an incident in which volunteers pretended to be part of a Red Cross convoy in order to gain entrance to the Georgian city of Gori, writes Eesti Paevaleht.
"When we went to Gori, we noticed a Red Cross column going, and it was that last-minute decision to go and follow them. The last bus in the column was yellow with Red Cross logos," said Heiki Valner, an advisor to the Estonian Green party and a volunteer in Georgia, who started his way home on Aug. 24.

The volunteers were not sent by any organization but answered an e-mail sent by a private Estonian individual looking for people to help out in Georgia's time of trouble.
Despite being well intentioned, it appears that the group may have violated international rules governing the behavior of volunteers.
Valner said they drove as a part of the column and were subjected only to a cursory weapons check, and not an identification check, because the temperature was high and the Russian soldiers were harried. The volunteers hid their cameras in bags.

"We had to introduce ourselves once in Gori. Then we talked about sharing humanitarian aid. The Russian soldier did not spot any difference," Valner said.
The law says the name and symbol of the Red Cross may be used only by military medical services and members of the International Red Cross organization. In Estonia, usage of Red Cross name and symbols is regulated by the Ministry of Defense.

"That kind of action will put actions of Red Cross members in danger and is also illegal," said Riina Kabi, secretary general of the Estonia Red Cross.
Some volunteers also pretended to be journalist. They were also holding press cards that they were not entitled to.

Ethics council of Estonian National Broadcast, Tarmu Tammerk said it's making harder both journalist and Red Cross workers jobs when one unrelated party introduces itself as a member of them, because in the future it might mean neither Red Cross workers or press can be trusted.
Tammerk said that no real journalist would ever pretend to be a member of the Red Cross. "Fake Red Crossers' actions can harm [genuine] Red Cross activities in giving aid. A journalist also does not have the right to use the Red Cross name," Tammerk said.

Misuse of the name or emblem of the Red Cross is punishable by a fine of 18,000 kroons (1150 euros) or jail time.