FIDH and 10 of its member organisations are aghast at the escalating deaths and injuries – both civilian and military – and the destruction of homes, cultural property, hospitals and critical infrastructure caused by the ongoing armed conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus. We call on all parties to ensure respect for the humanitarian ceasefire which came into effect on 26 October.Moreover, the humanitarian crisis, and intensity of hostilities, could be alleviated by the immediate withdrawal of mercenaries and other fighters recruited or otherwise provided by Turkey to Azerbaijan.
Soon after the flare-up of violence on 27 September 2020, reliable sources established that Syrian fighters hired by Turkey are brought to participate in combat near the Nagorno-Karabakh contact line on Azerbaijan’s side.
Azerbaijan’s use of mercenaries constitutes a violation of international law. The country is party to the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries which, in addition to prohibiting the recruitment, use, financing, or training of mercenaries, requires parties to take the appropriate measures to prevent and punish these acts. While classifying fighters as mercenaries is often difficult, due to the treaty’s detailed definition, in this particular case, direct reports strongly suggest that all conditions are fulfilled. Numerous combatants have confirmed that they are Syrian nationals who fight on behalf of Azerbaijan, often on the front line of the battlefield, for material gain.
The use of mercenaries in hostilities not only violates international law; it affects the peace and security of the entire region by drawing in regional powers – in this case, Turkey.
While Turkey did not ratify the treaty, its recruitment of mercenaries and their participation in the current conflict might violate several principles of international law, including sovereign equality of States and self-determination of peoples. The conduct is also inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention in the internal and external affairs of any State, as embodied in the UN Charter and customary international law.
The current hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh are the most intense in the history of the conflict since 1994. While the exact number of casualties is unknown, it is likely in the thousands and includes hundreds of civilians, including children. International humanitarian law requires parties to an armed conflict to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military personnel and objectives, on the other, and to only target the latter.
On 28 October, the bombardment of Barda, a town in Azerbaijan over 30 kilometers from the front line, by the Armenian side, caused the death of numerous civilians. Azerbaijan’s second largest city Ganja, which is approximately 100 kilometers from the front lines, was also shelled, causing numerous civilian deaths and injuries. Numerous human rights organisations also report Azerbaijan’s use of prohibited cluster munitions and drones targeting civilian locations, including densely populated neighbourhoods of Stepanakert and other locations in Nagorno-Karabakh, in violation of international humanitarian law. Furthermore, we are gravely concerned by reports of executions of prisoners of war by Azerbaijan’s armed forces, which, if confirmed, would constitute a grave breach of the Third Geneva Convention and a war crime.
FIDH and its undersigned member organisations call on:
- all parties to the conflict to engage in negotiations facilitated by the international community, leading to the continuation of the current ceasefire and the ultimate cessation of hostilities;
- all parties to the conflict to refrain from targeting the civilian population or persons hors de combat, or taking any other action that might threaten the life and health of civilians, including through the use of cluster munitions, and to avoid targeting and damaging homes, schools, hospitals, and the civilian infrastructure crucial to the delivery of food, water, and electricity to the conflict-affected region;
- all parties to the conflict to conduct impartial and effective investigations and prosecutions of those responsible – on all sides – for serious violations of international human rights law and crimes under international law, in particular against civilians;
- Azerbaijan and Turkey to stop the use, recruitment, financing or training of mercenaries in violation of international law.
Bir Duino (Kyrgyzstan)
Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
Citizens’ Watch (Russia)
Civil Society Institute (Armenia)
Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ (Belarus)
International Legal Initiative (Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law