In an appeal to avoid “further civilian suffering and loss of life,” the head of the International Red Cross on Friday called on the parties to the Russia-Ukraine war to fulfil their legal obligations
“Today, the ICRC is urgently reminding the parties to the conflict to fulfil their legal obligations to avoid further civilian suffering and loss of life,” said Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
According to UN figures, 249 civilians have been killed and 553 injured in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s war on Moscow on Feb. 24. Ukrainian authorities, however, put the death toll at over 2,000.
More than a million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said.
Maurer said that the Geneva Conventions and their First Additional Protocol are “fully applicable” in the international armed conflict taking place in Ukraine.
He said the Red Cross is concerned that fighting in urban settings entails particularly grave risks for civilians and reminded that under the Geneva Conventions, “attacks against civilians and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks and disproportionate attacks are prohibited.”
‘People desperate for safety’
“ICRC teams are receiving a flood of calls from people desperate for safety,” said Maurer.
“Casualty figures keep rising while health facilities struggle to cope. Civilians staying in underground shelters tell us that they fled shells falling directly overhead. They have no extra clothes, supplies or their needed medication. They need assistance now,” he said.
He said that the work of the Red Cross must be facilitated right now – when fighting is causing massive humanitarian needs.
“Parties have the obligation to facilitate that work even as conflict rages,” said Maurer.
He said the ICRC and wider International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are responding in Ukraine and surrounding countries.
“Our people are ready and determined to visit detainees, reconnect separated families, support healthcare facilities and increase the lifesaving assistance already being provided,” Maurer said.
He said that that nearly 75 years ago, the nations of the world agreed to basic tenets of humanity during armed conflict after the Red Cross was formed and issued a reminder of the Geneva Convention rules.
Among these are that conflicting parties must take feasible precautions to avoid or minimize civilian harm.
“They must do everything in their power to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas and protect civilians against the effects of attacks. Civilians should be allowed to leave in search of safety should they wish to do so,” said Maurer.
He also said that the conventions call for access to health care, safety of medical workers, and the return of “mortal remains.”
“The sick and wounded must be cared for, regardless of whose side they are on. Medical workers, medical vehicles and hospitals dedicated to humanitarian work cannot be attacked.”