New Red Cross chief to visit Moscow this week

AFP , Wednesday 18 Jan 2023

The new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross will visit Moscow this week, following a visit last month to conflict-ravaged Ukraine, the organisation said Wednesday.

ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric
During the visit Spoljaric is scheduled to meet with government officials and the Russian Red Cross. AFP


"ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric is visiting Moscow this week to discuss urgent humanitarian concerns", including the sensitive subject of ensuring regular visits to prisoners of war, it said in a statement.

"The ICRC also stands ready to play a neutral intermediary role for the exchange of prisoners and for any other humanitarian initiative, at the request of the parties," it said.

During the visit on Thursday and Friday, Spoljaric, who took the ICRC reins in October, is scheduled to meet with government officials and the Russian Red Cross.

Contacted by AFP, spokeswoman Jennifer Sparks refrained from providing details on which government officials Spoljaric would meet, and would not say if President Vladimir Putin was on the list.

The visit will follow her mission to Ukraine in December, "where she met with government officials, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, associations of families of prisoners of war (POW) and interned civilians, and communities that are suffering from the international armed conflict," ICRC said.

The organisation stressed that "a critical priority for president Spoljaric is to ensure that prisoners of war on both sides receive regular visits from the ICRC and are treated humanely in line with international humanitarian law."

"Unimpeded and regular access"

Visiting POWs is core to the ICRC's mission enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, which define the laws of war.

The ICRC has been repeatedly criticised by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the ultra-sensitive subject of POW visits.

He has accused the organisation of not pushing hard enough to gain access to Ukrainian troops captured by Russian forces.

Speaking to reporters last month, Spoljaric stressed the difficulty of the task and the dangers facing ICRC teams on the ground when visiting prisoners.

"If the ICRC doesn't come, it is not a choice," she insisted.

"We have to receive adequate guarantees and competent reassurances that our convoys will not be hit while trying to get to these facilities."

The ICRC has long complained that it lacks sufficient access to those held by the warring parties.

In Wednesday's statement, the organisation said it had "been visiting prisoners of war on both sides, but is urgently seeking full, unimpeded, and regular access to all, wherever they are held."

"These visits enable ICRC teams to monitor conditions of detention and treatment of the prisoners, share much-awaited news with their families and provide items such as blankets, warm clothes, personal hygiene items, and books," it pointed out.

Beyond Russia's war in Ukraine, Spoljaric will also discuss other situations of concern during her visit, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria and the Sahel region, ICRC said.

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