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A wounded woman is seen after an apartment complex outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine was hit by Russian bombs on February 24, 2022.

A wounded woman is seen after an apartment complex outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine was hit by Russian bombs on February 24, 2022. (Photo: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Human Rights Groups Warn Against Civilian Harm Amid Russian Attack on Ukraine

"The resulting humanitarian catastrophe from a full-scale war in Ukraine will lead to grave human suffering," said one aid group.

Kenny Stancil

Human rights groups responded with alarm to Russia's military assault on Ukraine and called for the protection of civilians and adherence to international law as the invading army's far-flung bombing campaign wreaks havoc in multiple cities and forces refugees to flee for their lives.

"Our worst fears have been realized," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said Thursday in a statement. "After weeks of escalation, a Russian invasion that is likely to lead to the most horrific consequences for human lives and human rights has begun."

"As rockets are falling on Ukrainian military bases, and the first reports are coming in of the use of indiscriminate weapons by the Russian army, Amnesty International reiterates its call on all parties to adhere strictly to international humanitarian law and international human rights law," said Callamard. "Civilian lives, homes, and infrastructure must be protected; indiscriminate attacks and the use of prohibited weapons such as cluster munitions must not take place."

In addition, Amnesty and other groups demanded that humanitarian agencies be given immediate and unfettered access to provide aid to those harmed by Russia's attack on Ukraine.

As Russia's multipronged assault intensifies and people desperately seek safety, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said Thursday in a statement that "the resulting humanitarian catastrophe from a full-scale war in Ukraine will lead to grave human suffering. The world will bear witness to innocent deaths, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and massive displacement inside the country and across Europe."

As Amnesty noted, "deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian property, and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitute war crimes." The organization, said Callamard, "will be monitoring the situation closely to expose violations of international law by all parties."

Already, there are reports from Ukrainian officials of up to ten civilian deaths.

A man mourns near a body as airstrike damages an apartment complex outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine on February 24, 2022. (Photo: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, condemned the "senseless war [that] has been unleashed in Ukraine."

"The vulnerable civilian population along the frontlines will suffer decisions made in safe offices far away from the harm done," said Egeland, who has drawn attention to the likelihood that thousands of families throughout Ukraine "will be separated indefinitely."

Lani Fortier, the IRC's senior director of emergencies, said that "we truly hope we can avert disaster and avoid the human suffering we will inevitably see if this conflict continues to escalate."

"However, the IRC is ready and preparing for the worst," Fortier continued. "We are working to quickly mobilize resources and connect with partners to establish a response that will provide lifesaving support to civilians forced to flee their homes."

"The IRC is meeting with partners and local civil society organizations in Poland and Ukraine to assess capacity for responding to an increase of refugees and people in need," added Fortier. "We will work to respond where we are needed the most and with the services that are needed urgently. Whatever the needs are, we are preparing to meet them."

The IRC warned that in addition to devastating Ukraine, the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin would cause "far-reaching humanitarian implications across Europe and the globe, destabilizing the continent, straining resources of Ukraine's neighbors, and impacting food supply for countries like Yemen, Libya, and Lebanon—already facing acute levels of food insecurity."

"As the situation teeters on the edge of full-scale war," said the IRC, "the international community must remain united and apply diplomatic pressure to focus on a political settlement."

Meanwhile, as officials in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and elsewhere move to hit Russia with sanctions, Quaker peace activists at the Friends Committee on National Legislation stressed that "we must not punish civilians for this conflict," and urged "lawmakers and leaders in the international community to ensure that any limited, targeted sanctions imposed because of the escalating crisis do not unduly burden the people of Ukraine."

The IRC argued that the world must "prepare for the worst by investing in humanitarian relief services inside and outside Ukraine to save lives and alleviate human suffering."

"European countries," added the organization, "must welcome their neighbors fleeing Ukraine by keeping borders open and ensuring full access to asylum and adequate reception."

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