GENEVA ( Associated Press) — Breaking its recent silence on prisoners of war, the Red Cross said on Thursday that it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who have died after being held out in a week at the giant in the southern city of Mariupol. The Azovstal Steel Plant was abandoned – a long standoff with the siege of the Russian army.
Announced by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which serves as the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, which aims to limit the “barbarism of war”, Russia’s military said 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers at a steel mill had surrendered.
The focus is now on how prisoners of war can be treated and what rights they have. Here’s a look at some of the key questions about POWs in Russia’s nearly three-month-old war on Ukraine:
Who is the prisoner of war?
Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention, which focuses on POWs, defines them as any member of the armed forces or militias—including organized resistance movements—in a conflict that has “fallen into enemy power.”
This includes non-combat crew members, war correspondents, and even “residents of a non-occupied area who, upon approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to oppose invading forces.” ”
What are the rights?
The Geneva Conventions set out requirements to ensure that POWs are treated humanely. They include issues such as where they can be placed; the relief they deserve, including medical aid for injured ex-fighters; and may face legal proceedings.
“In this case, the Russian Federation has a whole list of obligations: to treat them humanely, to allow the ICRC access to them, to notify the ICRC of their names, to allow them to write to their families, to care for them.” If they are injured and sick, to feed them and so on,” said Marco Sassoli, professor of international law at the University of Geneva.
“But obviously, the power to detain them could deprive them of their liberty until the end of the international armed conflict and hold them – unlike civilians – on their own territories. So they could be brought to Russia,” he said. .
Can they be prosecuted?
Only under certain conditions, particularly if an individual fighter is charged with committing one or more war crimes. Sassoli said such an allegation should be based on published evidence.
“They certainly cannot be punished for participating in hostilities, as it is the prerogative of combatants and prisoners of war,” he said.
Can prisoners be part of exchanges?
The Geneva Convention does not set rules for the exchange of prisoners. In the past, Red Cross intermediaries have helped accomplish agreed-upon exchanges.
Nevertheless, there have been insistences by some Russian officials that detained Ukrainian former fighters should face trial and not be involved in any prisoner exchanges.
Can Russia claim that the fighters do not deserve a position of power?
Some countries have tried to circumvent their Geneva Convention obligations – or simply argue that they are not bound by them.
A major case was when the United States detained hundreds of fighters allegedly linked to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. After the September 11 attacks and the US-led military operation to topple the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, they were detained as “enemy fighters” at a US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Sassoli said there are “all kinds of reasons” as to why someone might lose the status of a prisoner of war. For example, if the fighter did not “isolate himself from the civilian population” during the war.
“But here, to the best of my knowledge, no one claims that these men (detainees of the Azov regiment in Mariupol) were not wearing uniforms, or if they do not belong to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” said Sassoli. “It is basically Ukraine that decides who belongs to their armed forces.”
Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly touted the regiment’s role in the armed forces and celebrated the heroism of its members for fighting so long against larger Russian forces.
The Azov Regiment is part of the National Guard – does it matter?
Both Ukraine and Russia have accepted a key contract to the Geneva Conventions that detailed the definition of whether fighters – militia or otherwise – can be treated as part of a national military force, on the grounds that Do they obey military orders?
As for the Azov regiment’s fighters, “there is no doubt” they are part of Ukraine’s military force, said Sassoli, who was on a three-man team commissioned by the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, which traveled to Ukraine in March. Had it.
However, Russia is not entirely clear about who is detaining former Azovstal fighters – Russia itself, or pro-Russian regions in Ukraine such as the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” or “Luhansk People’s Republic”, which such may blur the distinctions.
What is the significance of the Red Cross Statement?
Thursday’s statement was the first time since Russia invaded February 24 that the ICRC – which plays an often-secret role in investigating prisoners of war – has said anything officially about POWs in the conflict.
“Normally, the ICRC won’t tell you how these people are treated, but the ICRC will say who they went to,” Sassoli said. “But the ICRC – to the best of my knowledge, until this media release – did not clarify how many people on both sides had access to it.”
Beyond its communications about Azovstal fighters, the ICRC has not stated whether it has registered other POWs or has had any visits with POWs on either side of the war.