GENEVA (AP) — The international Red Cross is calling for the ouster of the head of the Belarus Red Cross, who stirred international outrage for boasting that it was actively ferrying Ukrainian children from Russian-controlled areas to Belarus.
The board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Wednesday it has given the Belarus chapter until Nov. 30 to dismiss Dzmitry Shautsou, and if not, will recommend all affiliates to halt new partnerships and funding for the Belarus branch — which would be suspended from the global organization.
Last year, the Belarus Red Cross received nearly 1.7 million Swiss francs ($1.9 million) from the Geneva-based international organization for services like HIV prevention, support for migrants near the border with Poland, “clown therapy” and help for people fleeing neighboring Ukraine. This year, the outlay has been more than 1 million francs.
An internal IFRC probe found that the Belarus Red Cross said Shautsou was “found to be solely responsible for the allegations.” It also determined that another organization was responsible for moving children from Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, and the Belarus Red Cross’ involvement was only within Belarus. It did not specify the other organization.
Shautsou is accused of having breached the Red Cross much-vaunted and much-defended neutrality and integrity. He was seen publicly wearing military fatigues with the “Z” insignia of Russian forces, and he claimed publicly that he favored deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Belarus has been Moscow’s closest ally since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with its leader Alexander Lukashenko allowing the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory to send troops and weapons into Ukraine. Lukashenko has also welcomed a Russian military presence in Belarus and the deployment of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons there.
Both Ukraine and the Belarusian opposition have decried the transfer of children as unlawful deportations, and there have been calls for international war crimes charges for the Belarus leader, similar to the charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Belarusian opposition figures have accused Lukashenko of facilitating the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus — allegations that Minsk angrily rejected.
A report aired in July by state Belarus 1 TV channel showed Shautsou visiting the Russian-held Ukrainian city of Lysychansk in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region. In the footage, he says the organization was actively involved in bringing Ukrainian children to Belarus for “health improvement” purposes, and said the Belarus Red Cross was taking “an active part in it.”
The IFRC spells the name of the secretary-general of Belarus Red Cross as Dmitry Shevtsov.
In June, Belarusian opposition activist Pavel Latushka said he provided the International Criminal Court with information that allegedly detailed the forced transfer of 2,100 Ukrainian children from at least 15 Russia-occupied Ukrainian cities to Belarus with Lukashenko’s approval.
Belarusian authorities have confirmed hosting more than 1,000 children, ages 6-15, from Russian-held parts of Ukraine for health reasons. The first group of 350 children arrived in April, officials said, without providing further details.
Geneva-based IFRC brings together 191 national organizations and focuses primarily on delivery of humanitarian aid, responding to natural disasters and other crises. It is separate from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which focuses on conflicts, but they are associated under the umbrella of the global Red Cross Movement.
Red Cross and Red Crescent “National Societies” are often hybrid organizations — not government institutions, but not fully separate organizations either.