Strategy is used, for example, to evacuate civilians and deliver medicine and food in conflict zones. However, in some cases, they can be used to smuggle weapons and fuel to besieged cities. In recent days, a term has been seen quite a bit in the international news: humanitarian corridors. Attempts at a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine want to allow them to be opened for the evacuation of civilians and the provision of supplies to Ukrainian regions besieged by Russian troops.
The United Nations considers humanitarian corridors one of several possible forms of a temporary respite from an armed conflict. They are demilitarized zones, in a specific area and for a specific time – and all sides in an armed conflict agree with them.
Through these corridors, civilians can be evacuated or food and medical aid can be taken to areas of conflict.
Corridors are needed when cities are under siege and the population is without basic supplies of food, electricity and water.
In cases where a humanitarian catastrophe occurs because the international law of war is being violated – for example, through large-scale bombing of civilian targets – humanitarian corridors can provide crucial relief.
Who configures them?
In most cases, humanitarian corridors are negotiated by the United Nations (UN). Sometimes they are also created by local groups. As all sides must agree to establish the corridors, there is a risk of military or political abuse. For example, they can be used to smuggle weapons and fuel to besieged cities.
On the other hand, they can also be used by UN observers, NGOs and journalists to gain access to contested areas where war crimes are being committed.
What corridors have been established in Ukraine?
In eastern Ukraine, a five-hour ceasefire was supposed to have taken effect on Saturday (05/03) to allow about 200,000 people from Mariupol and 15,000 residents of the city of Volnovakha to leave.
But the initiative failed after a few hours. The Mariupol city administration said the evacuation was “delayed for security reasons” as Russian troops continued to bomb the city and its surroundings.
According to the Reuters news agency, Russia, however, said the corridors set up near Mariupol and Volnovakha were not used. Russian news agency RIA said “nationalists” prevented civilians from escaping and that Russian troops were also attacked during the ceasefire. A new attempt this Sunday also failed.
Ukraine also said that in the port city of Kherson, Russia had failed to fulfill its promise of a corridor and that 19 vehicles carrying humanitarian aid were not allowed to pass.
Instead, the Russians themselves planned to send high-level support to the civilian population, Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaiev said in a Facebook post. “First they took the situation to a critical state and then they rescued us so we can thank our ‘benefactor’ for the cameras,” he wrote.
Who has access?
Access to humanitarian corridors is determined by the parties to the conflict. It is usually limited to neutral actors, the UN or aid organizations such as the Red Cross. They also determine the time, area and which modes of transport – trucks, buses or planes – can use the corridor.
In rare cases, humanitarian corridors are organized by only one of the parties to the conflict. This happened with American air transport after the Soviet Union’s blockade of Berlin between 1948 and 1949.
Where else were they used?
Humanitarian corridors have been created since the mid-20th century. For example, during the so-called “Kindertransport”, from 1938 to 1939, Jewish children were evacuated to the UK from areas under Nazi control.
Humanitarian corridors were also created during the siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia, between 1992 and 1995, and for the evacuation of the city of Ghouta, in Syria, in 2018.
However, there are many wars and conflicts in which calls for civilian corridors or a pause in fighting have been made in vain. In the ongoing war in Yemen, for example, the UN has so far failed in its negotiations.
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