For some weeks now, an armed conflict has been going on between the states of Armenia and Azerbaijan, involved for decades in a fierce struggle that has as its main objective the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the South Caucasus region with Armenian majority, which has always been disputed between the two governments.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (present in the Region since 1992) has denounced the turn that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is taking in recent days.
After more than a week of fighting, we are now witnessing bombings on residential neighborhoods not directly involved in the conflict, which have already caused victims among the civilian population as well as about a hundred displaced persons.
All the above could (and indeed can, according to the ICRC) constitute a violation of the rules of international humanitarian law; among all, the Geneva Conventions.
The rules of international humanitarian law, in fact, govern situations of armed conflict, regulating the conduct of hostilities and the protection of victims. In particular, it is provided that non-military persons and property are never affected in the context of armed conflict, prohibiting the cause of disproportionate damage among the civilian population. The reference standards, as mentioned above, are the four Geneva Conventions and their additional Protocols.
In the case of very serious violations of humanitarian law, the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague and established by the Rome Statute of 1998, has jurisdiction over individuals responsible for so-called war crimes; these are defined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute, which covers, on the one hand, serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and, on the other, "other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable, within the consolidated framework of international law, in international armed conflicts".
The bombardments, bloodshed, and repeated attacks on the civilian population in the Nagorno-Karabakh region these days could be assessed as war crimes by the Hague Court in the future.
Armenia and Azerbaijan both ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 2002, thereby submitting to the jurisdiction of the European Court in Strasbourg in cases of violation of the rights recognized and guaranteed by the Convention.
And the European Court, on 29 September 2020, upon the request of the Azerbaijan Government, decided to apply "ad interim measures", pursuant to Regulation no. 39; in particular, the Regulation provides the possibility for the Court to indicate interim measures to any Member State of the European Convention, in situations of exceptional and urgent nature, where there is an imminent risk of irreparable damage.
The decisions of the Court, in these cases, are binding on the Member States, also on the basis of Article 34 of the Convention, which regulates the case of individual appeals (i.e. brought by natural persons against a State) and which requires that the Member States "undertake not to hinder the exercise of this right".
The Court, in particular, in its communiqué of 29 September, has pointed out the serious risk that the conflict in progress could lead to very serious violations of the Convention, in particular of Article 2, which recognizes and protects the right to life, and of Article 3, which imposes the prohibition of torture or any inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
In fact, this is not the first time that the Strasbourg Judges have pronounced on the issue of the Azero-Armenian conflict.
In the cases, in fact, "Chigarov and al. c. Armenia" and "Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan", following the intervention of the countries involved, ex art. 36 of the Convention (which provides for the right of member countries, even non-parties, to submit written observations and to participate in the hearings), the ECHR confirmed the effective exercise of the power of control by Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and neighboring territories, and therefore the violation by the country of the criteria of territorial jurisdiction provided by the Convention.
On the United Nations side, then, the Security Council Resolution n. 2532, which imposed a general ceasefire for all situations of conflict, in light of the spread of the very serious pandemic from Covid-19, was disregarded.
From a historical point of view, the Azerish-Armenian war caused about 30 thousand deaths at the end of the last century, when in 1992, after the Armenian Government obtained control over Nagorno-Karabakh, a wave of violence between the two countries was triggered.
The disputed enclave, in fact, obtained its autonomy in Soviet times, self-proclaiming itself as the Republic of Artsakh, then as a state independent of Azerbaijan, although no member of the United Nations has ever recognized it.
Subsequently, since 1994, the two countries have been committed to a ceasefire agreement, also thanks to the mediation of the Minsk Group, consisting of the United States, France and Russia, allowing a fair peace of mind in the area for about twenty years.
In April 2016, however, the Nagorno-Karabakh region was once again the scene of bloody clashes, in what went down in history as the "Four Day War", which ended with a ceasefire agreement also facilitated by the mediation of the Russian government.
Well, today, the Azerbaijan army is working to regain that historically disputed territory, with the proclamation of martial law and general mobilization.
Nor did the call for a ceasefire last July from the various countries of the international community, as well as the warning of the Strasbourg Court, which, as we have seen, stressed that all states involved must avoid any action that could lead to a violation of civil rights, have served to calm the clashes.
On the other hand, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, has also launched an appeal for an end to all hostilities, with the support and control of the Minsk Group within the OSCE.
Important, then, are the geo-political implications of the conflict, particularly with regard to the indirect protagonists, Russia and Turkey, engaged in external claims and support.
The Turkish President Erdogan, in fact, has openly sided with the Azerbaijani Government, in the name of the friendship that binds the two countries, on the one hand asking for a withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories and, on the other hand, promising a military intervention in the region, in case of need.
The Moscow Government, on the contrary, supports the Armenian adversary, hoping, however, for a mediation between the two parties in conflict (and it could not anyway act differently, also considering its role in the Minsk Group).
Also the other countries of the International Community are taking position in relation to the conflict: Canada, first of all, has suspended the arms export to Turkey, after having learned that Ankara supplies the Azerbaijani army.
The call for a ceasefire also comes from our Pease: the Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, in fact, has assured the Azerbaijani Government the commitment of Italy to relaunch negotiations in the OSCE, to avoid the escalation of a conflict that would inevitably lead to a real Caucasus war.
ICRC, “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Civilians bearing brunt of surge in violence”, 2 ottobre 2020;
2Haski P., “La guerra tra l’Armenia e l’Azerbaigian diventa più sanguinosa”, 6 ottobre 2020;
3 I Convenzione per il miglioramento delle condizioni dei feriti e dei malati delle Forze armate in campagna, Ginevra, 12 agosto 1949; II Convenzione per il miglioramento delle condizioni dei feriti, dei malati e dei naufraghi delle Forze armate sul mare, Ginevra, 12 agosto 1949; III Convenzione sul trattamento dei prigionieri di guerra, Ginevra, 12 agosto 1949; IV Convenzione sulla protezione delle persone civili in tempo di guerra, Ginevra, 12 agosto 1949;
4 Art. 8, Statuto di Roma (1998)
5 ECHR 265 (2020) 30.09.2020;
7 ECHR, Application n. 13216/2005;
8 ECHR, Application n. 40167/2006;
9 Risini I., “Armenia v Azerbaijan before the European Court of Human Rights”, 1 ottobre 2020;
10 UNSC, Resolution n. 2532/2020;
11 Baccini F., “Nagorno-Karabakh, la Commissione UE intima la fine del conflitto nel Caucaso: “No a ingerenze esterne da Turchia e Russia”, 7 ottobre 2020;
12 EU External Action, “Nagorno Karabakh: Remarks by the High Representative / Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP plenary debate on the resumption of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan”, 7 ottobre 2020;
13 Baccini F., “Nagorno-Karabakh, la Commissione UE intima la fine del conflitto nel Caucaso: “No a ingerenze esterne da Turchia e Russia”, 7 ottobre 2020;