Ukraine war puts international law and civilians under threat, says ICRC

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries as Russia's assault on key cities continues

Refugees with disabilities and their caregivers arrive at the Hungarian border town of Zahony from Ukraine. Getty Images
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Innocent civilians are coming under threat in Ukraine since the conflict started, putting international humanitarian laws on the line, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday, as the group upped its support.

Moscow ordered its troops to invade neighbouring Ukraine last week, launching an assault by land, sea and air.

The fighting has resulted in more than 875,000 refugees fleeing over the borders into neighbouring countries.

The assault is the biggest attack on a European country since the Second World War.

This map shows the locations of known Russian military strikes and ground attacks inside Ukraine after Russia announced a military invasion of Ukraine. AP

“Sadly, there appears to be a range of breaches [of international humanitarian law] but we will have to wait,” Helen Durham, the ICRC’s Director of International Law and Policy, told The National.

“We have been giving a démarche to all parties to the conflict, reminding them of their obligations such as protecting civilians, ensuring the dignified treatment of detainees and protection of cultural property,” Ms Durham said during a trip to Dubai.

The ICRC is continuing to talk to both sides, she said.

“It's difficult to assess what has and what hasn’t been followed,” she said.

“We see there’s a lot of frustration on both sides, but our concerns have been raised in a bilateral, confidential manner.”

Ms Durham said she could not elaborate further on the apparent breaches.

“This is being passed to all parties in the conflict and we will continue to talk with them,” she said.

The agency, which had about 600 aid workers stationed across Ukraine before the conflict, has had to move some of its employees out of the capital Kyiv due to the fighting.

International humanitarian law is designed to protect civilians and critical infrastructure such as water and power systems from attack during conflict.

This week, the ICRC has made an international appeal for 250 million Swiss francs to provide food, water and shelter to millions of people in Ukraine.

“If there’s not an international response to support those being made homeless in freezing conditions, to give children some degree of medical support and mental health support, the range of things to keep you alive then there will be more suffering,” she said.

Ukrainians have flooded into neighbouring countries, mainly Moldova and Romania, while an estimated 100,000 have been internally displaced.

Ms Durham said parties to the conflict should know that “war has limits, there are things they cannot do, weapons they cannot use and we need to stand really strong on that".

She added that there needs to be pressure from the public, diplomats and decision-makers globally on the parties involved to stop the war.

“If the parties don’t follow international humanitarian law, then there will be more needs,” she said.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 11:26 AM