Humanitarian crisis in Nagorno Karabakh needs urgent response – HRW

Thousands of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have dire humanitarian needs following Azerbaijan’s military operation to regain control over the region, Human Rights Watch said today. The military intervention followed months of acute shortages of food, medications, hygiene products, and other essential supplies to the region, as Azerbaijan had disrupted vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the region for over 9 months.

“Azerbaijani authorities should take immediate steps to ensure the safety and humanitarian needs of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population, allowing humanitarian access without delay. Azerbaijan should allow civilians who wish to evacuate temporarily to Armenia, as well as people in urgent need of medical care who wish to leave, while respecting their right to return. Transportation of food, medicines, and other humanitarian necessities into Nagorno-Karabakh should be permitted from multiple directions, including through Armenia. International monitoring is needed to ensure that Azerbaijan meets its human rights obligations, in particular, toward Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population,” HRW said.

“Civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh are facing a dire humanitarian crisis and grave uncertainty about their future,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Azerbaijani authorities have said that everyone’s rights will be protected, but that is hard to take at face value after the months of severe hardships and decades of conflict.”

Unless Azerbaijani authorities take immediate steps to address humanitarian needs, including goods and services essential to people’s economic and social rights, it would be credible to conclude that it is deliberately trying to make ethnic Armenians’ lives so miserable they will have no choice but to leave, Human Rights Watch said.

Since September 19, 2023, when Azerbaijan started military attacks to regain full control over Nagorno-Karabakh, thousands of civilians have fled their homes. Many fled to Stepanakert. Ethnic Armenian civilians cannot evacuate the region because Azerbaijan has not opened the border, which runs through the Lachin Corridor, the sole road connecting the region to Armenia.

On September 22, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Russian peacekeeping force bases in Nagorno-Karabakh were “hosting 826 civilians,” and that “their accommodation, food supply, and medical care are provided.” Russian peacekeeping forces should ensure the humanitarian needs and protection of civilians who sought refuge on Russian military bases, Human Rights Watch said.

For civilians who choose to evacuate, Azerbaijan is obligated to allow them to return to their homes under a fundamental precept of international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 22, the European Court of Human Rights issued interim measures obligating Azerbaijan to “refrain from taking any measures which might entail breaches of their obligations under the [European Convention on Human Rights], notably regarding the right to life and the prohibition of torture and other degrading treatment or punishment.”

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