The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling on both Russia and Ukraine to grant it unimpeded access to all prisoners of war being held by each side.
The ICRC has been working since late February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, to obtain access to all prisoners of war. The Swiss-based aid agency says its teams have been trying to check on their condition and treatment and keep their families informed about their loved ones.
However, the effort has been largely frustrated. ICRC head of media Ewan Watson said Red Cross teams only have been able to visit several hundred POWs on both sides.
“But there are thousands more who we have not been able to see, and we are concerned about their fate,” he said. “The third Geneva Convention obliges parties to an international armed conflict to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross immediate access to all POWs and the right to visit them wherever they are held.”
Watson noted all states have committed to respect the Geneva Conventions. He said they are legally obliged to grant the ICRC visiting rights to the POWs.
He said it is for the benefit of both sides of the conflict for ICRC staff to conduct visits on a regular basis. However, he added little headway has been made in weeks and months of trying.
He said working in a conflict zone is always risky, but these are risks the ICRC willingly takes every day. At the same time, he said practical arrangements and security guarantees must be worked out with the warring parties, so ICRC teams are able to move about in relative safety.
Still, Watson said the ICRC has been able to achieve a lot in alleviating concerns of many families, despite the many frustrations and continued lack of access to most of the POWs.
“We have been able to get 3,000 or more families news about their loved ones,” he said. “Now, every single person who receives that news is receiving a lifeline, an emotional connection to their family member who is in detention. So, that is vital work. However, it is not enough.”
Watson said the ICRC will keep repeating its message until it is understood by the warring parties. He said the ICRC needs unimpeded access to places of detention and will continue asking for it until it is available to each and every Russian and Ukrainian POW on a regular basis.