Protective signs are symbols to be used during an armed conflict to mark persons and objects under the protection of various treaties of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). While their essential meaning can be summarized as "Don't shoot!" or "Don't attack!", the exact conditions implied vary depending on the respective sign and the circumstances of its use. The form, shape and color of these signs are defined by the rules of IHL. Usually, they are easy to draw in order to make even an improvised use as easy as possible, and they were chosen to be as concise, recognizable and visible as possible under all circumstances.
Usage of protective signs is restricted to armed conflicts. They are to be used only by eligible organizations or groups to mark their personnel, vehicles, buildings and other objects. The misuse of protective signs is a violation of International Humanitarian Law and punishable under the national law of all countries who are state parties to the respective treaties.
List of protective signs
The following signs have a protective meaning under certain conditions:
- the Red Cross and the equivalent signs of the Red Crescent, the Red Lion with Sun and the Red Crystal  to be used to mark all persons and objects under the protection of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols of 1977; see emblems of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
- a blue triangle on orange ground as the international distinctive sign of civil defence; to be used to mark the personnel and objects of civil defense organizations
- the letters "PG" or "PW" to mark a prisoner of war camp and the letters "IC" to mark an internment camp for civilians
- an oblique red band on a white ground to mark Hospital and safety zones
- the white flag; used to designate unarmed parliamentaries (negotiators, along with their flag bearer and optional drummer) asking for a truce or ceasefire, or to symbolise surrender
- the emblem of the United Nations as well as the letters "UN"; to be used to mark the personnel and material of UN Peacekeeping missions
- the distinctive mark of the Roerich Pact for the identification of historic monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational and cultural institutions (Such as universities, theatres, Stonehenge)
- the distinctive marking of cultural property, to be used to mark "movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people"; and the triple use of that sign to mark cultural property under special protection, including "refuges intended to shelter movable cultural property" (e.g.: Paintings, sculptures, texts) and "immovable cultural property of very great importance" (such as The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London or The Taj Mahal, Agra, India)
- the special sign used to facilitate the identification of "works and installations containing dangerous forces" (dams, dikes and nuclear electrical generating stations), consisting of three bright orange circles placed on the same axis
Of these symbols, the distinctive flag of the Roerich Pact was superseded by the distinctive marking of cultural property as defined by the Hague Convention of 1954. However, the emblem of the Roerich Pact is still a valid protective sign in the relations between states which are bound by the Washington Treaty of 1935 but not by the convention of 1954. The United States Senate ratified the convention of 1954 on 2008-09-28, so as of that date, Chile is the only state where this still applies.
The Red Lion with Sun symbol was used by Iran from 1924 until 1980 when the country declared its intention to use the Red Crescent instead. However, the country maintains its right to return to the Red Lion with Sun emblem. Therefore, this symbol is still recognized as a protective sign with equal status to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal.
- Defined in article 38 of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field; August 12, 1949
- Defined in article 2 of the Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem (Protocol III), 8 December 2005
- Defined in article 66 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts; June 8, 1977
- Defined in article 23 of the Geneva Conventions relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; August 12, 1949
- Defined in article 83 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War; August 12, 1949
- Defined in article 6 of annex I to the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War; August 12, 1949
- Defined in article 32 of the Hague Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land; July 29, 1899
- Defined in article 3 of the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel; December 9, 1994
- Defined in article 3 of the Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments; April 15, 1935
- Defined in article 16 of the Convention for the Protection of cultural property in the Event of Armed Conflict; May 14, 1954
- Defined in article 56 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts; June 8, 1977
- "U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield - 1954 Hague Convention" (in English). Retrieved 2010-11-02.