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Freedom House: Azerbaijan's Actions from 2020 to May 2024 in Nagorno-Karabakh Are Crimes Under Rome Statute

People leaving Artsakh
Photo Credit: David Ghahramanyan

International human rights organization Freedom House has presented a fact-finding report titled "Why Are There No Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh?”

In particular, this special report examines the situation for ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh for the period starting with the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020 and through the Azerbaijani military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023 and its aftermath. Through an international fact-finding effort that included hundreds of witness interviews and open-source data, the analysis aims to answer why there are no ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh as of May 2024.

Stepanakert, Artsakh

The report documents how people in Nagorno-Karabakh were intentionally subjected to regular attacks, intimidation, deprivation of basic rights and adequate living conditions, and forced displacement. The evidence demonstrates that the Azerbaijani state acted upon a comprehensive, methodically implemented strategy to empty Nagorno-Karabakh of its ethnic Armenian population and historical and cultural presence.

The report also presents the events related to the  44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, Azerbaijan's 9-month blockade and humanitarian crisis in Artsakh, attacks and intimidation of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian peacekeepers' mission in Karabakh, mass movement of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, the destruction of the facts of the existence of Armenians, and the Armenian historical and cultural heritage in Karabakh.

Kornidzor: Artsakh's citizens after leaving their homes

The fact-finding mission has documented multiple cases of gross human rights violations, breaches of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, as well as serious breaches of peremptory norms of international law by Azerbaijani officials during the events spanning from 2020 to May 2024. There is substantial evidence of violations of the rights to life, health, food, freedom of movement, adequate standards of living, liberty and personal integrity, the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, right to a fair trial, education, property, as well as and cultural rights.

An analysis of the actions and rhetoric of Azerbaijani authorities in conjunction with the lived experiences of the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh provides reasonable grounds to conclude that their forced displacement was intentional. The evidence suggests a coordinated, long-term plan aimed at ridding Nagorno-Karabakh of its ethnic Armenian population. This policy was achieved through regular actions that constitute gross violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law.

Stepanakert after Azerbaijani attack

In a gradual process and methodical manner, the Azerbaijani state imposed conditions of life designed to either bring about the destruction of the Armenian population over time, or render it impossible for them to stay and survive. The official narrative from Azerbaijani officials immediately following displacement that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is “resolved” and “justice is restored” further point to intentionality. Persistent defiance of international norms and continued violations despite international condemnations also indicate the deliberate intent of the Azerbaijani government to displace the Armenian population.

Accordingly, the documented actions of Azerbaijan meet the criteria for ethnic cleansing as understood in the context of the former Yugoslavia conflict, inflicting it through means of extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, restrictions on the access to food and life-saving medication, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property.

Artsakh’s citizens leaving their homes

The fact-finding mission has determined that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that these practices as well as other acts cited in this summary also constitute crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, including Article 7 (crimes against humanity), and Article 8 (war crimes), and align with the definition of deportation or forcible transfer of population

These findings and lack of prosecution on the domestic level in Azerbaijan underscore the urgent need for international legal scrutiny and accountability, with a recommendation for referral to the ICC to ensure a thorough investigation and potential prosecution of those responsible for these egregious acts.

This fact-finding report was jointly prepared by Freedom House, International Partnership for Human Rights, Democracy Development Foundation, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly - Vanadzor, Protection of Rights without Borders NGO, Law Development and Protections Foundation, and Truth Hounds.


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