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Georgian fighters in Ukraine wrestle with international humanitarian law

#Georgian #fighters #Ukraine #wrestle #international #humanitarian #law

Mamuka Mamulashvili, the leader of the Georgian National Legion, with the words “never forget, never forgive” tattooed on his forearm, listens intently to a presentation that fighters in Ukraine must respect international humanitarian law.

The event in the capital Kyiv is being organized by a Swiss NGO called Geneva Call as part of its efforts to meet and mentor a wide range of Ukrainian fighters.

As fighting rages on, Geneva Call aims to impartially teach the rules of international struggle to combatants who may have received little or no training, says Marie Lequin, Eurasia Region head.

The setting, held in an office center with PowerPoint screens, contrasts sharply with the battle-hardened looks of the Georgian Legion’s fighters.

Georgian Mamulashvili, who speaks fluent English, is leading some 800 fighters from some 32 countries fighting in south-eastern Ukraine.

The Legion prides itself on only recruiting volunteers with combat experience and has so far suffered injuries but no fatalities.

Squadron leaders, mostly bearded and tattooed, flank him at the meeting in Kyiv.

Topics such as prisoners of war and proportionality rules are covered. Other issues include whether to give loved ones details of how a soldier died – not necessarily – and whether the conflict is legally defined as “international” – it is.

Finally, the participants sign a commitment to comply with international standards and pose with their flag, adorned with a red-eyed wolf.

“Today it’s a step in a process that we call humanitarian engagement … to build some kind of dialogue with armed organizations to bring about some kind of change in policy and behavior,” Lequin told AFP.

– ‘Blurred lines’ –

The treatment of civilians and human rights organizations sparked much discussion at the presentation.

Lequin warns of possible “blurring lines” in war and emphasizes that “it is important that humanitarian work and aid are separated from military operations”.

But Mamulashvili counters that humanitarian organizations “should be more involved in the process and not content with lectures”.

He insists his fighters “get the basic information they should know about the Geneva Convention and various international laws”.

The Legion signed a pledge to protect civilians and allow access for humanitarian groups at the end of the session.

At the same time, he says the Legion runs some humanitarian activities itself due to the lack of NGOs on the ground.

“We transported civilians from areas under Russian shelling,” he tells the meeting.

“We do this with cars that we bought with our own money that aren’t armored, and it’s quite dangerous for civilians.”

Geneva Call says that when an armed group is distributing or evacuating humanitarian aid or accompanying humanitarian groups, they must remove their uniforms and not carry weapons.

“We don’t carry weapons when we distribute humanitarian aid to volunteers,” the department’s commander, Taras Reshetylo, told AFP.

– ‘Let’s be models’ –

Lequin warns that such well-intentioned actions can put civilians at risk by making them a potential target.

“From a civilian perspective, it’s confusing to understand whether you’re providing humanitarian aid or directing military operations to protect civilians,” she told Mamulashvili.

It is also “very difficult for NGOs to assess whether the military presence makes us a military target or not,” she adds.

Actions could be interpreted or manipulated differently, Lequin tells AFP, adding that warfare “will eventually end up in court and it’s important that we can document all of that.”

She urges Mamulashvili: “Let’s be models and have the best practice.”

– “Serious Violation” –

Some Ukrainian fighters in the war-torn east have used schools to house soldiers and transport troops in yellow school buses, AFP journalists have seen – making them potential targets.

“We never used schools and I’m sure Ukrainians don’t violate international law either,” Mamulashvili told AFP.

But Russia, he claims, is “breaking all the rules” and accuses it of using fake humanitarian aid organizations as a covert means of importing arms.

Lequin says it would be a “grave injury” and “infidelity”.

Mamulashvili says the Legion, which conducts special operations, has units “scattered all over the front”.

“It’s getting harder and harder for us because Russia isn’t getting into contact fighting anymore and is only firing artillery,” he says, stressing that Ukraine needs more missile systems to respond.

“Ukraine must protect its civilian population, which is being bombed every day, and we have nothing to answer to that,” he warns.

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#Georgian #fighters #Ukraine #wrestle #international #humanitarian #law

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