The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is coming to the aid of those who have been injured or displaced as a result of the conflict in Georgia. As the violence spreads beyond South Ossetia, the ICRC is hearing reports of an increasing number of civilian casualties.
Georgian women cry as they leave their village near the town of Tskhinvali, some 100km (62 miles) from Tbilisi, August 10, 2019. Georgia has withdrawn its forces from breakaway South Ossetia, where they had been fighting Russian troops for control, the Georgian interior ministry said on Sunday. But the Russian army said Georgian forces were still there. The announcement of a pullout followed three days of fighting in a Georgian push to take control of the pro-Moscow enclave from separatists, which prompted Russia to pour troops into South Ossetia and launch air strikes inside Georgia. REUTERS/ Gleb Garanich
"The humanitarian situation remains very serious," said Dominique Liengme, the ICRC's head of delegation in Georgia. "An ICRC assessment team that managed to visit the Georgian town of Gori has confirmed that many people have fled. We are also hearing reports of widespread displacement throughout the region."
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is made up of 186 national societies – like the American Red Cross – that respond to humanitarian needs after disasters, and the ICRC that provides these services in conflict zones. (To learn more about the different roles and responsibilities of the ICRC and the American Red Cross, click here)
Since Georgia is a conflict zone, the ICRC will take the lead in humanitarian response for the Movement, and is preparing to fly 15 tons of medicines and medical supplies to Georgia to help those injured in the conflict. The chartered flight from Geneva is also expected to include material for a water-treatment plant and distribution tanks capable of holding safe drinking water for around 20,000 people.
Still, they may not be able to reach all those in need of assistance.
"So far, the ICRC has not been able to gain access to South Ossetia. This remains a priority for us," said Liengme. "The fighting has been too intense for us to move around or distribute assistance, so we are continuing to call for unimpeded and safe access to all areas affected by the conflict."
In North Ossetia, the organization is working with the Russian authorities to distribute aid to displaced people fleeing South Ossetia.
The ICRC has officially reminded Georgia and Russia of their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and distinguish at all times between the civilian population and those taking a direct part in the hostilities.
Under international humanitarian law:
- Indiscriminate or direct attacks on civilians are strictly prohibited;
- 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 is also working to gain access to people detained in connection with the conflict, including two Russian pilots who were wounded and are being held by the Georgian authorities. It is also seeking to repatriate the body of a Russian pilot who was killed in recent fighting.