Breaking its current silence on prisoners of warfare (POWs), the Red Cross stated it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian POWs who’ve left the enormous Azovstal metal plant within the southern metropolis of Mariupol after holding out for weeks towards besieging Russian forces.
The announcement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday, which acts as a guardian of the Geneva Conventions and its acknowledged purpose to restrict “the barbarity of war”, got here shortly after Russia’s navy stated 1,730 Ukrainian troops on the metal plant had surrendered.
Attention now’s turning to how these prisoners of warfare is perhaps handled and what rights they’ve.
Here is a have a look at some key questions on POWs in Russia’s nearly three-month-old warfare on Ukraine:
Who is a prisoner of warfare?
Article four of the third Geneva Convention, which focuses on POWs, defines them as any member of armed forces or militias – together with organised resistance actions – in a battle who “who have fallen into the power of the enemy”.
It additionally contains non-combatant crew members, warfare correspondents, and even “inhabitants of a non-occupied territory who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces”.
What rights do POWS have?
The Geneva Conventions set out necessities to make sure that POWs are handled humanely. They embrace points comparable to the place they are often held; the aid they need to obtain, together with medical assist for wounded ex-fighters; and authorized proceedings they could face.
“In this case, the Russian Federation has an entire list of obligations: To treat them humanely, to let the ICRC (have) access to them, to inform the ICRC of their names, to allow them to write to their families, to care for them if they are wounded and sick, to feed them and so on,” stated Marco Sassoli, a professor of worldwide legislation on the University of Geneva.
“But obviously, the detaining power may deprive them of their liberty until the end of the international armed conflict and may hold them – unlike civilians – on their own territories. So they may be brought to Russia,” he stated.
Can POWs be placed on trial?
Only underneath sure situations, notably if a person fighter is accused of committing a number of warfare crimes. Such an accusation have to be primarily based on printed proof, Sassoli stated.
“They can certainly not be punished for having participated in the hostilities, because that’s the privilege of combatants and of prisoners of war,” he stated.
Could POWs turn into a part of prisoner exchanges?
The Geneva Conventions don’t set rules for prisoner exchanges. In the previous, Red Cross intermediaries have helped perform agreed-upon POW exchanges. Still, a lot has been made from the insistence by some Russian officers that detained Ukrainian ex-fighters ought to face trial and shouldn’t be included in any prisoner exchanges.
Could Russia declare the Azovstal fighters aren’t entitled to POWs standing?
Some nations have tried to sidestep their Geneva Conventions obligations – or just argue that they don’t seem to be sure by them. A distinguished case was when the US detained lots of of fighters allegedly linked to teams like al-Qaeda. They had been detained as “enemy combatants” at a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the September 11 assaults and the following US-led navy invasion to topple the Taliban management in Afghanistan.
Sassoli stated there are “all kinds of reasons” why a person would possibly lose their prisoner of warfare standing. For instance, if the fighter “didn’t distinguish themselves from the civilian population” throughout fight.
“But here, to the best of my knowledge, no one claims that these people [detainees from the Azov Regiment in Mariupol] didn’t wear a uniform, or if they don’t belong to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Sassoli stated.
“It’s basically Ukraine who decides who belongs to their armed forces.”
Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly touted the regiment’s function within the armed forces and have celebrated what they name its members’ “heroism” for holding out so lengthy towards far-larger Russian forces.
The Azov regiment is a part of the nationwide guard – does that matter?
Ukraine and Russia have each accepted an necessary annex to the Geneva Conventions that broadens the definition of what fighters – militia or in any other case – is perhaps thought-about as a part of the nationwide navy power, primarily based partly on whether or not they observe navy instructions. As for the Azov Regiment fighters, “there’s no doubt” they’re a part of Ukraine’s navy power, stated Sassoli, who was on a three-person workforce commissioned by the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe that travelled to Ukraine in March.
However, Russia has not been absolutely clear about who’s detaining the previous Azovstal fighters – Russia itself, or the breakaway pro-Russian areas in Ukraine such because the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” or the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” which may blur such distinctions.
What is the importance of the Red Cross Statement on POWs?
Thursday’s assertion was the primary time since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 that the ICRC – which performs an often-confidential function to examine on prisoners of warfare – has stated something formally about POWs within the battle.
“Normally, the ICRC will not tell you how these people are treated, but the ICRC will say whom they visited,” Sassoli stated.
“But the ICRC – to the best of my knowledge, until this media release – did not clarify how many people it had access to, on both sides.”
Beyond its communication concerning the Azovstal fighters, the ICRC has not stated whether or not it has registered different POWs or carried out any visits with POWs on both facet of the warfare.