Red Cross says it is doing all it can in Ukraine

Director Robert Mardini stresses that parties to the Ukraine conflict must grant the ICRC access to all prisoners of war. © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

The International Committee of the Red Cross “continues to move heaven and earth” to gain access to all prisoners of war in the Ukraine conflict, its director Robert Mardini has told Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

This content was published on November 30, 2022 - 09:46

The ICRC has been regularly criticised by the Ukrainian authorities for not doing enough in the face of Russian violations of the Geneva Conventions. "We don't see them struggling to get access to camps where Ukrainians are prisoners of war and where political prisoners are held,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech to the G20 on November 15, for example. “Nor do they help us to find Ukrainians who have been deported." He claimed the ICRC was disengaging and self-destructing.

But in an interview on Tuesday eveningExternal link, Mardini said the ICRC’s discreet approach was paying off and there were some “encouraging signs”. He did not specify, however.

The Third Geneva Convention obliges all parties to an international armed conflict to grant the ICRC access to all prisoners of war (POWs), and the right to visit them wherever they are held.  In an October press releaseExternal link, the ICRC expressed its frustration that this was not being respected in the context of the Ukraine war. “We have been able to visit hundreds of POWs but there are thousands more who we have not been able to see,” it said.

Mardini stressed that the ICRC “does not have an army to force doors” and that while it will do everything it can to gain access, “the obligation falls on the parties to the conflict". In response to suggestions that the ICRC should be more vocal in calling out those violating the Geneva Convention, Mardini said it would only do this if all other means of influence were exhausted and that “today, we have encouraging signals with regard to future access to prisoners of war".

"We must measure the impact of all the diplomatic efforts that have been made,” he told RTS, while admitting that the situation was not good. "It is very unsatisfactory, but it is moving," he said.

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