GENEVA/Kyiv (dpa-AFX) – After the attack on a prison camp in eastern Ukraine, the Red Cross initially waited in vain for access to the injured. “To be clear, our request for access to the prisoners of war from Olenivka prison yesterday was not granted,” the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Ukraine tweeted on Saturday evening. Even by Sunday afternoon, the ICRC had not received permission to access the prison, as a spokesman in Geneva told the dpa. The Russian Defense Ministry, on the other hand, said in Moscow that it had invited the ICRC to visit.
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Olenivka is near Donetsk in the area controlled by pro-Russian separatists. A rocket is said to have hit the barracks with prisoners of war on Friday night. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of an intentional Russian war crime. According to the Russian account, the facility was hit by a US Himars multiple rocket launcher used by the Ukrainian army. The information provided by both sides could not be independently verified. The Russian Defense Ministry released the names of 50 prisoners killed and 73 injured on Saturday.
The strictly neutral ICRC has the power to visit prisoners of war under international law, which applies to every country in the world. “The Third Geneva Convention gives the ICRC the right to go where prisoners of war are and to question them,” the ICRC said on its website. However, for the formal approval of the party holding the POWs, the delegates need it.
The Ukrainian government has made statements giving the impression that the United Nations and the ICRC have given guarantees for the safety of prisoners of war. Since prison facilities are never run by the ICRC itself, there are no such guarantees. The ICRC only promises to visit prisoners regularly and ensure family contacts. If one party to the conflict does not comply with the Geneva Conventions, it can do little.
A similar misconception existed with the humanitarian corridors designed to allow civilians to flee embattled areas. The ICRC can mediate in the negotiations for such corridors. However, the parties to the conflict must come to an agreement. If there are security guarantees from the parties to the conflict, the ICRC accompanies convoys and takes care of civilians./oe/DP/he