April 24, 2024

The Belarusian Red Cross says it helped deport children from Ukraine



CNN

The head of the Belarusian Red Cross has sparked international outrage when it was announced that the organization is involved in resettlement Children of Ukraine from Russian-occupied areas to Belarus, a stark acknowledgment that the group may be capable of what Ukraine says is war crime.

Dzmitry Shautsou, chief executive of the Belarusian branch of the Red Cross, said in an interview with Belarusian state television channel 1 that the organization was taking children from Ukraine to Belarus for “rehabilitation,” according to a report on the interview by the independent Belsat TV.

“When they accused the Republic of Belarus of abducting children who come to us for rehabilitation – in fact, the Belarusian Red Cross was, and is, and will be actively involved in this,” said Shautsou.

Ukraine has long accused Russia of forcibly deporting Ukrainian children from occupied areas. Some Russian officials have acknowledged the practice, and publicly boasted of their efforts to bring children to Russia, placing them in Russian families and, in some cases, giving them Russian passports.

But Shautsou’s statement was the first time the Belarusian Red Cross admitted to participating in the deportations. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the umbrella organization of the Red Cross, expressed “deep concern” and called for the practice to stop.

Under international agreements, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the expulsion of a civilian population is considered a war crime and the forcible transfer of children from one group to another is genocide.

It is not clear how many Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia or Belarus since the beginning of the war. Official numbers from the Ukrainian government show that nearly 20,000 have been deported or forcibly displaced, and 1,000 are missing, but the government says the numbers could be much higher.

Shautsou said the children were coming to Belarus “to relax,” and added: “We try to do everything to make them feel at home. So that they would not need anything. And most importantly, they were surrounded by love.”

A Belarus 1 report showed that Shautsou visited Russian-occupied areas in eastern Ukraine, including the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, wearing military clothing emblazoned with the letter Z, according to Belsat TV. The letter has become a pro-war symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Shautsou’s trip and admission led to fierce criticism from Ukraine and the international community.

“The extraordinary circumstances of this visit, including the use of a symbol associated with one of the parties to the international armed conflict in Ukraine, binds the Basic Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement,” the IFRC said in a statement, adding that it had referred the case to its independent investigative committee.

“We have contacted the Belarusian Red Cross to express our deep concern and to stop any similar activity in the future,” the statement said, adding that “actions by any member of the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society that conflict with our humanitarian mission” are “taken very seriously.”

The Ukrainian branch of the Red Cross asked the IFRC to deny the involvement of the Belarusian Red Cross in the deportations. “We ask them to carefully consider the issue of excluding the Belarusian Red Cross from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement,” the group said in a statement.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “all those responsible for stealing children from Ukraine must be held to account.”

“I call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Dzmitry Shautsou, who has publicly admitted the crime of illegally deporting children from occupied areas in Ukraine,” he said on Twitter.

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport children from Ukraine to Russia.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a close friend of Putin. He allowed Russian troops to use Belarus as a staging ground for their full-scale invasion of Ukraine Russia launched in February 2022. He has since agreed to replace Russia. tactical nuclear weapons into the territory of Belarus. Recently, he provided a safe haven for chief Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin after the short-lived uprising of the mercenary group in Russia last month.

A report published by the Belarusian opposition National Crisis Management Group said there was evidence of Ukrainian children being forcibly sent to Belarusian health camps and centers. CNN cannot independently verify the claim.

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