The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned of possible war crimes in the the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
Michelle Bachelet on Monday expressed alarm at continuing indiscriminate attacks in populated areas in and around the border region, in contravention of international humanitarian law, despite a recent agreement by the two sides.
“Since the conflict reignited in September with the terrible consequences we are now seeing, there have been repeated calls, including by myself, for the parties to take all feasible steps to avoid, or at the very least minimize, the loss of civilian life and damage to civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals – as well as to distinguish civilians from combatants, and civilian objects from military objectives,” she said.
“International humanitarian law cannot be clearer. Attacks carried out in violation of the principle of distinction or the principle of proportionality may amount to war crimes, and the parties to the conflict are obliged to effectively, promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate such violations and to prosecute those alleged to have committed them.”
The High Commissioner also expressed serious concern over videos which appear to show war crimes being committed.
Although she said fake images have been circulated on social media, in-depth investigations by media organizations have uncovered “compelling and deeply disturbing information” surrounding videos what appeared to show Azerbaijani troops summarily executing two captured Armenians in military uniforms.
The willful killing of protected persons represents a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, the international treaty which established the standards for humanitarian treatment during war time.
Bachelet explained that while such an incident would constitute a war crime, only a competent court can determine and rule on this.
With the fighting taking place amid rising cases of COVID-19, the UN rights chief underscored the direct threat to public health, adding that “the fighting is also strikingly in opposition to the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic.”
Bachelet reiterated her call for all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, abiding by the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, and avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
“As the loss of life continues and the suffering of civilians deepens, I appeal again for an immediate halt in the fighting and urge all parties to abide by a humanitarian ceasefire and engage in negotiations to find a peaceful and durable solution to this conflict that has wrought so much destruction in the region,” she said.