Red Cross Protest Letter
ICRC protest letter regarding forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens to Russia
March 31, 2022
Peter Maurer, Chairman
International Committee of the Red Cross
19 Avenue de la paix
Dear Mr. Maurer,
This letter constitutes a formal grievance against the International Committee of the Red Cross for enabling and legitimizing forced deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia under the guise of “humanitarian evacuation,” and for its participation in Russian propaganda. These activities have been alleged to betray the Red Cross’s mandate and make it an accessory to war crimes. The Ukrainian government, Transparency International Ukraine, and other organizations and individuals have expressed opposition to the ICRC’s conduct and petitioned for remedies. Some have called for a boycott. We express our grave concern and call for an independent public investigation.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been described as “illegal under international law” and “unjust according to every version of just war theory." Notwithstanding widespread sanctions and travel bans making Russia an international pariah, your organization’s press release explains your visit to Moscow. It states that as a purportedly “neutral, impartial humanitarian actor, ICRC is mandated to speak with all sides of a conflict to advocate respect for international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, to protect civilian life and to ensure aid is able to reach those most in need.” Yet we do not see that you have maintained neutrality, that you have advocated respect for international law, or that you have acted to protect the human rights of those you claim to serve.
During your visit in Moscow, you praised Russia as an allegedly reliable partner for humanitarian relief in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Your praise to Russian foreign minister Mr. Sergei Lavrov for “productive cooperation” has been frequently replayed as part of Russia’s propaganda campaign. Following the lead of Kremlin propaganda, the ICRC has continued to refer to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine as merely an “armed conflict,” while refusing to name the aggressor or acknowledge material facts.
We and others wonder what alternate reality you live in, where Russia is a responsible and cooperative humanitarian actor. Russia has repeatedly attacked civilian targets in Mariupol, Ukraine, damaging or destroying 90% of the city and depriving its population of water, electricity, food, and medical supplies. Russia has inflicted hunger and starvation as weapons of war. Local residents have attested to Russian war crimes and horrific conditions. Despite dire warnings of the humanitarian catastrophe and calls for relief by the World Health Organization and humanitarian agencies, the Russian military has shot, bombed, and blocked humanitarian convoys attempting to relieve the city. Russia has admitted intentionally bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol and other health care facilities. Russian invaders took medical personnel and patients hostage in another Mariupol hospital. It bombed the Mariupol drama theater with precision-guided munitions and killed over 300 civilians, notwithstanding clear marking on both sides visible from the air that children were inside. Schools have been bombed. Vadym Boichenko, the mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine, stated on March 28, 2022 that nearly 5,000 people including 210 children had been killed in Russia’s siege of the city, with many others missing and presumed dead. An estimated 160,000 others have remained in the city without clean water or electricity as food and medical supplies have run out.
All of these actions of Russia constitute war crimes and are contrary to international law and universal human rights. The ICRC professes to safeguard these rights, but has been silent regarding blatant and repeated violations even while praising the aggressor. The obliteration of everyday life is a deliberate element of Russia’s campaign of terror and destruction against the Ukrainian people. Yet your organization abandoned Mariupol on March 16, 2022, with the city blockaded and without water, electricity, or supplies. While you shake hands with Mr. Lavrov in Moscow praising Russia for good partnership and cooperation, Ukrainians are being massacred and dying from privation. If Russia is a reliable humanitarian partner as you say, why have you not been able to enlist their cooperation at least to stop atrocities? Ukraine has requested no aid from Russia, but only for it to desist from ongoing war crimes and to respect humanitarian corridors.
Russia has increasingly turned to cowardly war crimes against civilians as its military has been unable to defeat Ukrainian defenders by conventional means. Civilians waiting in bread lines have been massacred. Reports of summary executions and rape by Russian occupiers are increasingly attested. A captured Russian pilot has admitted that he was ordered to bomb civilian targets. Nursing homes have been shelled by tanks, leading to mass casualties. By March 22, 2022, at least 15 medical providers and patients had been killed in more than 60 Russian attacks on health care facilities and at least 10 hospitals had been completely destroyed. By March 27, 2022, 733 educational institutions in Ukraine had been damaged or destroyed. The aggressor has destroyed or damaged at least 39 cultural landmarks. Damage to Ukrainian civilian objects and infrastructure is already estimated at over $1 trillion even as ostensible Western guarantors have watched from afar.
Polls show that a majority of Ukrainians in all regions of Ukraine believe that Russia’s goal is to kill Ukrainian people, whereas the other half believe that the main goal is to occupy Ukraine and make it part of Russia. These are not wild conspiracy theories, nor do they arise from isolated statements taken out of context. They reflect the deluge of hate speech and dehumanization towards Ukrainians that we hear incessantly from Russian state-approved media.
Putin’s dehumanization of Ukrainians and denial of their right to nationhood bear close parallels to Hitler’s calls for ethnic cleansing and “lebensraum.” Russian acquaintances approvingly refer to the murder of Ukrainian defenders on social media as “cleansing” a region. Much of the international outrage has been directed towards Russian war crimes against children, which are truly horrific. Yet Ukrainian defenders also are mainly young and innocent people fighting to defend their people and freedom. There are no legitimate targets in an illegitimate war.
Informed western analysts have also concluded that “the risk of genocide in Ukraine is now very real.” The Atlantic Council’s Peter Dickinson wrote that “given the scale and ferocity of popular opposition to the Russian invasion, any pacification campaign would need to rival the worst crimes against humanity of the totalitarian twentieth century.”
Without consultation with Ukraine and against its objections, you asked Russia permission to establish an ICRC center in Rostov-on-Don to process Ukrainian hostages. During your visit to Kyiv, you had already been supplied with evidence that Russia was involuntarily deporting Ukrainian citizens to Russia. Forced displacement is a crime against humanity constituting a grave breach of international law, including Article 49 of the 1949 Geneva Convention.
Ukrainian and Russian officials have acknowledged that over 400,000 Ukrainian civilians, including more than 84,000 children, have been deported to Russia. One victim stated: "At all stages of the journey, we were treated like captives or some criminals." Victims have been forcibly removed to filtration camps where Ukrainian deportees are required to turn over phones and passwords to Russian agents who download their contacts and confiscate their Ukrainian documents. FSB (the Russian security service) has used coerced testimony from forced deportees in propaganda videos after repeated interrogations and denial of family contact.
Almost all entrants to Russia from territory controlled by Ukraine before February 24, 2022 have been taken involuntarily. Early estimates indicate that fewer than 5% of Ukrainian refugees to all countries voluntarily selected Russia as their destination, with voluntary entrants coming almost exclusively from territory controlled by the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics at the start of full-scale war.
Russia has attempted to propagandize its forced deportations as a humanitarian “evacuation.” Deported civilians have acknowledged that “all of us were taken forcibly” to Russia. Victims have recounted their horrific experiences. Russia’s conduct repeats the mass deportations of Nazism and Stalinism. Ukrainian parliamentarian Inna Sovsun wrote: “the GULAG has been restored.”
Ukrainian mobile networks have been shut off by Russian occupiers to block the flow of information in and out of occupied territories, and has been replaced Ukrainian news with Kremlin propaganda. Propaganda for war is a crime against humanity and is unlawful under Article 20 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Russia’s planned arrest and assassination campaign involving a “kill list” of Ukrainians was exposed before the invasion and reaffirmed weeks later. Russian state broadcasts have openly advocated the execution of Ukrainian political prisoners. Leaked documents have shown that Russian has planned a “great terror” of kidnappings and violence to suppress protest in occupied territory even if it requires deporting half the population of major cities. These plans have increasingly been implemented. Disappearances and detentions of democratically elected Ukrainian leaders, activists, and journalists have become pervasive in Russian-occupied areas. Local mayors have been abducted and later found dead.
The ICRC’s collaboration with the aggressor cannot legalize or sanctify the kidnapping, arbitrary detention and deportation of Ukrainians. Transparency International Ukraine has noted that the Red Cross’s position will make it an accomplice to war crimes. Your public support of Russia’s conduct and proposal of a Red Cross-sponsored processing center in Rostov-na-Don only provides cover for Russia’s cynical portrayal of the forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens as a humanitarian evacuation for the consumption of domestic audiences and “useful idiots” abroad.
The ICRC’s conduct betrays both Ukrainian victims and international donors. Neutrality does not mean willful ignorance towards aggression and indifference towards war crimes, nor that lies should be dignified by imputing to them equal standing with truth.
We call upon the International Committee of the Red Cross to immediately desist from collaborating with the aggressor regarding the forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia, from any conduct which would legitimize or validate these acts, and from participating in Russian propaganda by praising the aggressor.
Until such time, we join with others who have called for a boycott of the International Committee of the Red Cross. We advise prospective donors instead to make their donations to reputable humanitarian organizations that act in accordance with international law and their professed principles.
Update of April 2, 2022: Russian soldiers have massacred civilians while retreating from around Kyiv, have shelled and annihilated volunteers in humanitarian convoys delivering aid, have seized relief convoys and have stolen 14 tons of humanitarian supplies, and have blocked ICRC attempts to deliver relief and establish a safe corridor for civilians fleeing Mariupol, Ukraine.