July 5, 2022
The Armenian General Benevolent Union in Lebanon (AGBU Lebanon), in collaboration with the Lepsius Haus in Potsdam Germany, organized the second webinar of the Artsakh series “Embattled Dreamlands,” titled “Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: International Law Perspectives.”
The widely attended event on June 22, 2022 featured three legal experts, Sarah Babaian LL.M, a negotiation expert and conflict manager for national and international conflicts; Gurgen Petrossian LL.M, a senior researcher and head of Friedrich-Alexander-University’s International Criminal Law Research Group; and Arlette Zakarian LL.M, a lawyer at the Strasbourg Bar. Each explored the clashing multiple international law frameworks relating to the Second Artsakh War.
Liana Melkonian, AGBU Lebanon’s Programs and Communications Coordinator opened the proceedings and Dr. Roy Knocke, Deputy Director of Lepsius Haus- Potsdam served as moderator of the three-part discussion.
Part 1: The Question of the Right to Self-Determination in International Law
Babaian emphasized the tension that exists between two fundamental norms and principles in International Law, which are the right to self-determination and the territorial integrity of the state. She defined the principle of self-determination as Artsakh’s lawful right to secede from the Republic of Azerbaijan to form its own independent state or to join another state, in this case Armenia.
Babaian noted that, since 1920, Nagorno-Azerbaijani laws were imposed on the majority-Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, the Azerbaijani government systematically discriminated against the Armenians denying them the internal right to self-determination. She asserted that while the Azerbaijani government is invoking the principle of territorial integrity, it is the duty of the state to avert secession by granting the Armenians internal self-determination. In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the right to self-determination carries more weight than territorial integrity because the Azerbaijani government denied the Armenians their freedoms to form, participate or represent themselves in the national government.
Part 2: The Violations of Human Rights
Gurgen Petrossian, LL.M, discussed the human rights violations that took place in the Nagorno-Karabakh War from two perspectives–state responsibility and individual criminal responsibility. He explained that the European Court of Human Rights, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members, has played a huge role in providing justice to the Armenian people. The Azerbaijani government has committed various human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, from the killings of civilians, beheadings, and raiding of property. Moreover, the Azerbaijani authorities glorify the perpetrators of these crimes, erecting statues that promote them as national heroes.
Petrossian added that, at the state level, the International Court of Justice acts as the world court and that the anti-racial discrimination convention sets strict rules that states must follow, which include not to tolerate any kind of racial discrimination within their own systems. Yet the Azerbaijani authorities, who already have a judgement before the European Court of Human Rights, built a museum in the center of the Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital city, “humiliating the Armenians’ dignity.”
When it comes to individual criminal responsibility, there is the International Criminal Court, to which, unfortunately, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not members. However, Petrossian points out that, in the 21st century, every domestic authority has the power to punish war criminals regardless of their nationality and the location of the crimes committed.
Part 3: Questions of International Law, Post-War
Arlette Zakarian, LL.M, focused on the use of International Law after conflict and war, highlighting what the law says regarding landmines and cluster bombs.The concepts and principles of International Law have changed throughout history. For instance, nowadays, there is no clear distinction between a civilian and a person from the military, as more and more civilians are involved in fighting. This makes it more difficult to assess the post-war situation and clearly impose the law on the perpetrators.
Zakarian described how International Law deals with de-mining landmines, and who, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is responsible for cleaning up the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. She also mentioned that 98 percent of recorded victims of cluster munitions are civilians and one third of them are children. That is why small-influence states and concerned Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) created the Ottawa Convention to ban landmines and cluster bombs. However, neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan have signed and ratified the treaty.
“The region surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the most significant mined regions of the former Soviet Union,” stated Zakarian. In addition, journalists and NGOs confirm that cluster munitions had been used against civilians in the town of Stepanakert, around hospitals, schools, and playgrounds.
Regarding cleaning landmine zones, Azerbaijan used legal arguments against Armenia, claiming that even though the Armenian state has not signed the Ottawa Convention, Armenia must make use of it and clean the landmines for the Azerbaijani people to move into the conquered territories, referring to customary law. Here the question arises, why can’t Azerbaijan do the same? Azerbaijan has signed and ratified various International Law conventions; therefore, it can use hard law instead of imposing customary law on Armenia.
Currently, Armenia is trading landmine maps for prisoners of war as a way of post-war negotiation. As a solution, Zakarian suggests including arms manufacturers as non-state actors in the convention and oblige them to de-mine.
The speakers opened the floor for discussion and debated on various questions posed by the audience.