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Georgia/Russian Federation: ICRC delivers assistance to civilians in conflict affected areas

12-08-2008 Interview

The ICRC is flying 15 tonnes of medicine and medical supplies to Georgia on Tuesday to help treat those injured in the armed conflict involving Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian troops. Large numbers of civilians have been hurt in the conflict and thousands have been forced to flee their homes. Sangeeta Koenig, the ICRC's deputy head of operations for Eastern Europe, talks about the organization's response to the crisis.

What is the ICRC doing to help those affected by the conflict?

One of our top priorities is to ensure that the wounded receive the emergency medical help that they require – hence the flight from Geneva is carrying medicine and medical supplies for their treatment. An ICRC surgical team is also being flown in to help treat the war wounded. In addition, many people have no access to safe drinking water so the plane from Geneva is also carrying material for a water-treatment plant and tanks to hold enough water for around 20,000 people.

On the ground, our access in South Ossetia itself has been hampered by ongoing fighting and as of 12 August, we were still unable to move around to deliver assistance there. We continue to call for safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations to evaluate the needs and deliver assistance in all affected areas. In the Georgian capital, Tbilsi, we have been able to visit ten centres that are sheltering more than 1,500 people who have fled their homes. The ICRC has begun distributing emergency assistance to them. In the west of the country, the Georgian authorities have also asked us to assist around 1,500 people, including 600 children, in the village of Chuberi, who have left their homes in Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia. The ICRC plans to provide food for the group and help transport them to centres for the displaced in the Georgian town of Zugdidi later on Tuesday, 12 August.

The ICRC is working with the Russian Red Cross in North Ossetia to help thousands of people from South Ossetia, who have been displaced by the fighting. Hygiene items, blankets and clothes have been provided to the Russian Red Cross, which has distributed them to around 600 civilians in four areas. Kits to treat the war wounded have also been provided for hospitals in Vladikavkaz and Aligir.

The ICRC is present in Tblisi and the western Georgian city of Zugdidi. An ICRC team has also spent considerable time in Gori in recent days. In the northern Caucasus, the ICRC has a sub-delegation in Nalchik and offices in Khassaviurt, Grozny, Nazran and Vladikavkaz.

What news is there of the two Russian pilots taken captive by the Georgians?

On Monday 11 August, an ICRC team was able to visit two wounded Russian pilots, who are being detained by the Georgian authorities. The visit was carried out in accordance with normal ICRC working modalities and the meeting took place in private. Each of the pilots was given the possibility of exchanging news with their families by means of a Red Cross message. We are told they are both fine.

The ICRC continues to seek access to all people captured or arrested in connection with the conflict.

How does international humanitarian law apply to this situation?

This is an international armed conflict and as such the four Geneva Conventions, their Additional Protocol I and the customary rules and principles of international humanitarian law are applicable.

Indiscriminate or direct attacks on civilians are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law. The wounded and sick are entitled to medical care. People who are not directly participating in the hostilities – including those who surrender or who are no longer able to fight because they are wounded, sick or have been captured – must not be attacked and must be treated humanely.

The ICRC has officially reminded Georgia and Russia of their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants.