A team of 11 staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), including one doctor, is ready in Donetsk to visit any prisoners of war held in the area, including at the Olenivka penal facility. Their mission would be to check on the conditions of internment and treatment, deliver essential supplies, and ensure the prisoners of war can contact their families.
The intense hostilities in the area today underscore the dangers involved and how difficult this mission has been to fulfill. Our team has been ready for months, but to this day does not have at the same time both the minimal security guarantees on the ground and the local authorisation to conduct a visit.
This is emblematic of a wider and unacceptable fact: today, the ICRC still does not have unimpeded and repeated access to all prisoners of war in this international armed conflict. This is despite nearly eight months of persistent demands by our teams to visit all places of detention and internment.
Blaming the ICRC for being denied full and immediate access does not help prisoners of war or their families. The ones who can make a difference for prisoners of war in any international armed conflict are the States involved and the detaining authorities. They are the ones obliged to treat them humanely in line with the Geneva Conventions and to give the ICRC access to all of them.
Prisoners of war are entitled to receive regular visits from delegates of the ICRC under the Third Geneva Convention. In any armed conflict, when we visit prisoners of war we give them and their families the emotional lifeline of keeping in touch with one another. We provide ongoing essential care such as medical assistance. We share our findings and recommendations for concrete improvements to their treatment and internment conditions confidentially and directly with the authorities. Prisoners of war and their families deserve that glimmer of hope and humanity in the agony of armed conflict.
Any actions we take—whether in public or behind closed doors—are guided by one priority: the lives, integrity, and wellbeing of prisoners of war. Our determination is undimmed. We will never stop demanding access to prisoners of war until we are able to see all of them not just once, but repeatedly, wherever they are held.
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