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Thousands of lives at stake in Marawi City fighting

June 1, 2017

MANILA – Ten days into the hostilities in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, southern Philippines, civilian lives are at stake as the number of casualties continue to grow and nearly 2,000 residents remain trapped in the city.

“We are extremely concerned about the residents who could not leave their homes because of the fighting, and also those who are reportedly being held against their will. We are also deeply worried about reports of civilians being killed,” said Pascal Porchet, Head of Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Philippines.

“Targeting civilians is prohibited by international humanitarian law (IHL), and all feasible precautions must be taken to protect them in military operations. We urge all those involved in the fighting to protect civilian lives, and are hopeful that those held against their will are being treated humanely and will be released. We stand ready to serve as a neutral intermediary to evacuate civilians caught between the fighting,” he stressed.

The ICRC has been actively supporting authorities in the management of dead bodies. It has donated 160 body bags, as well as gloves and masks, to help the authorities with the proper retrieval of the bodies.

The ICRC has also been negotiating for safe access to trapped civilians in Marawi by engaging in a constant dialogue with all parties to the conflict. However, the current security situation does not yet allow the ICRC to bring them all to safety. It has however transported nearly 600 people from Marawi City to the Saguiaran evacuation center or even as far as Iligan.

International humanitarian law (IHL) limits the means and methods of warfare and protects people who do not take part in the fighting (i.e. civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (i.e. wounded, sick, captured or detained fighters). These limits are particularly meaningful when military operations are conducted in populated areas where the risk of harm to civilians and civilian objects, including essential infrastructure, increases.

Since the onset of the fighting, the ICRC has been on the ground assisting the population affected by it. It has also been reminding parties to the conflict to spare the lives of those who are not participating in the hostilities. Together with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), the ICRC has distributed relief items to more than 10,000 displaced people, provided an equal number of people with access to clean water, and enhanced the capacity of six local health facilities to provide basic health care to thousands of people through the donation of medical supplies.

“We have started conducting full assessment of the conditions of displaced people in hard-to-reach evacuation centers, to give us a better picture of the humanitarian needs. We hope to also assess the western and eastern parts of Lanao Lake once the security situation allows us to do so,” said Porchet.

The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization that protects and assists victims of armed conflict. It has an international mandate to promote knowledge for and respect of IHL.

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