freedom of expression
statement by human rights house yerevan
30th September 2020
In September 27, early in the morning, in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic, the Azerbaijani armed forces launched large-scale airborne, missile, and land attack along the entire line of contact in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Azerbaijani army uses tanks, helicopters, heavy artillery, UAVs, multiple launch rocket systems Grad, and Smerch. Moreover, F16 Turkish fighters were noticed in the vicinity of the line of contact. Villages of the Vardenis Region, Gegharkunik Province of Armenia were under shelling from the Azerbaijani side on September 29․ Alarming complaints have been received from civilians of the villages being bombarded. A civilian bus was attacked by a UAV in the city of Vardenis in Armenia. These attacks are accompanied with massive hate speech towards ethnic Armenians in tightly controlled social and online media. Moreover, journalists, in the line of duty, have been targeted too.
On September 30, 2020 the Azerbaijani Air Force, in gross violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), bombed Stepanakert and Martakert cities in Artsakh, specifically targeting the civilians and causing at least 3 more civilian casualties (at least 8 in total, as of September 30), thus committing alleged atrocity crimes. These atrocities followed the decision of EC(t)HR from 29 September, based upon the request of Armenian Government, to apply interim measures under Rule 39 and were committed in total disregard of the Court’s decision “to refrain from taking any measures, in particular military actions, which might entail breaches of the Convention rights of the civilian population, including putting their life and health at risk․․․”
This attack is unprecedented not only in terms of the heavy military equipment employed, the scale of the military actions launched, and the scope of IHL and IHRL violations, but presumed direct involvement of Turkey and of mercenaries operating in Syria, deployed by the latter in the military actions against Armenians. This aggression was indeed pre-planned well in advance and any reference by the Azerbaijani side to ‘counterattack’ is utterly false. The statement of the Azerbaijani President at the UNGA on September 23 was a “diplomatic green-light” for this reckless aggression. It was full of hate speech and the manifestation of clear genocidal intent towards Armenian people.
Azerbaijan under the regime of Aliyev has been oppressing and prosecuting its own people, human rights defenders and activists, in particular, even slight anti-war messages would result in their arrest. Since the beginning of hostilities Azerbaijan has shut down almost all social media to prevent its own population from accessing transparent, free and diverse sources of information, with the aim of creating a “propaganda bubble”. Over the years Aliyev’s regime has extremely shrunk the space for independent civil society, violating its own citizens’ rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. Many of Armenian human rights defenders for a long time have been engaged in cross-border peacebuilding initiatives and witnessed how the dictatorship of Azerbaijan has been targeting and silencing independent civil society actors, most of whom are now in exile.
Overall, this oppressive regime in Baku is not only a threat to democracy and human rights within its own country, but a threat to the democratic government, rule of law, human rights and peace in the entire region. Since the Velvet Revolution and the election of a legitimate government in Armenia, Armenia’s leadership on several occasions has been sending messages of peacefully resolving the conflict and of preparing populations to peace, which has been disregarded by the regime in Azerbaijan.
On September 27 over one hundred Armenian NGOs, Human Rights House Yerevan included, released a statement, condemning the aggression by the Azerbaijani regime and appealing to the international community “to take urgent and effective measures to end the Azerbaijani regime aggression and to resume negotiations for peaceful resolution of the conflict.” The statement has been open and shared with the larger international community with a hope of support and adequate reaction on the part of the international civil society, which wasn’t the case, unfortunately.
Human Rights House Yerevan believes that international organizations have an important role in advancing democracy and human rights protection across the world and in the region. However, despite the above-mentioned unequivocal facts of gross violations of human rights in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and in Armenia, the international organizations, with a mandate of strengthening human rights and democracy, are reluctant in explicitly condemning the aggression of Azerbaijan and Turkey in their statements. Moreover, most of these statements are based on the “principle of neutrality” calling on “both sides to respect human rights and cease the fire” while ignoring credible records of Azerbaijan launching large-scale military attacks on Artsakh and the peaceful civilians.
As a human rights organization that has signed and joined to hundreds of international statements condemning the human rights violations and calling for the full protection of human rights, it is important to state that there was never an instance where international organizations in their statements were calling on Russia and Ukraine, Russia and Georgia, Lukashenko and Tikhanovskaya to “return to the table of the negotiations”, thus putting a sign of equality between the two sides. It is because, we believe, human rights violations have to be condemned unequivocally, there is no second opinion.
We, as a human rights organization, condemn this false balanced approach of international organizations and demand:
To genuinely present the situation considering the overall political context of the countries, including human rights and democratic state of all sides and its larger – geopolitical implications. This war, in our understanding, is a fight against one of the few democracies left in the region by authoritarian corrupt regimes like Azerbaijan and Turkey.
To use appropriate and precise language when calling for peace. By stating in official statements formulations, like “both sides should stop hostilities” an important notion is left out: asking both the aggressor and the victim to stop fighting, means asking the targeted population to stop defending itself while being heavily attacked by aggressors.
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