Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: All Sides Must Spare Civilians and Respect International Law

Press release
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FIDH is alarmed by reports of indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas and civilian infrastructure in and around the Nagorno Karabakh region and calls on all sides to the armed conflict to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law.

On 27 September 2020, heavy fighting broke out in and around the Nagorno Karabakh region in the South Caucuses resulting in hundreds of casualties, including dozens of civilians. This latest instance of armed violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region is the most intense since 1994. While the exact number of casualties is at this time unknown, they are reportedly into the hundreds and include dozens of civilians, including children. Several journalists have been wounded. Both sides blame the other for the latest outbreak of hostilities.

Most of the civilian casualties are a result of heavy shelling. There have also been reports of damage to civilian buildings, roads and bridges in towns and villages on either side of the contact line. Journalists report the use of cluster munitions in densely populated areas.

"Every side loses when war breaks out, but even during armed conflicts there are rules to abide by. Most important - civilians can never be objects of a direct attack, and each side to the conflict has the obligation to minimise destruction of homes, civilian deaths and injuries."

Alice Mogwe, FIDH President

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Customary international humanitarian law (IHL) on the conduct of hostilities also applies to the situation. Under IHL, parties to the conflict must distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and military objectives, including military personnel, on the other, and only target the latter.

“Cluster munitions are inherently imprecise weapons that should never be used in a densely populated area,” said Ilya Nuzov, the Head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Their use constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law, while their intentional use against civilians is a war crime triggering both individual and state responsibility.”

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are States Parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and must therefore protect their populations from the effects of armed conflict.

FIDH calls on both Azerbaijan and Armenia to refrain from targeting the civilian population or taking any other action that might threaten the life and health of civilians, including through the use of cluster munitions, and to avoid damaging homes, schools, hospitals and the civilian infrastructure crucial to the delivery of food, water and electricity to the conflict-affected region.

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