C Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Paul Gavan, rapporteur
1. The humanitarian consequences
of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tragic
for both sides. It is a conflict grounded in history which has seen
two major outbreaks of war, from the end of 1991 to 1994, and a
6-week war in 2020.
2. On 20 November 2020, the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly
invited the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons
to prepare a report, and on 2 December I was appointed rapporteur
and conducted fact finding visits to Armenia, from 18 to 22 May
2021, and to Azerbaijan from 25 to 28 July 2021.
For an understanding of the
history of the conflict and the position of the Assembly, reference
is made to the former work of the Assembly and in particular Resolution 1416 (2005)
“The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt
with by the OSCE Minsk Conference”.
As the title of that Resolution notes, this is a conflict
over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is also about the return of
7 surrounding districts to Azerbaijan. In 1991, at the time of its
independence, the borders of Azerbaijan were internationally recognised
(including by the Council of Europe), while at the same time the Armenian
population of the Nagorno-Karabakh region claimed the right to self-determination.Note
As a consequence of the 1991-1994 war,
the United Nations passed Resolutions 822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993)
and 884 (1993) urging the parties to comply and to refrain from
any armed hostilities and withdraw military forces from any occupied
5. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan committed themselves upon their
accession to the Council of Europe in January 2001, to use only
peaceful means for settling the conflict. At the same time, Armenia
committed itself to use its considerable influence over the Nagorno-Karabakh
region to foster a solution to the conflict. These commitments remain
The current report takes into account this background and
focuses on humanitarian consequences, not political consequences
or political solutions. It looks primarily at the recent 6-week
and ongoing challenges.
In addition, there are certain humanitarian consequences from the
1991-1994 war and its aftermath, which need to be considered.
7. The main issues to be covered include, the dead, missing and
wounded; prisoners of war/alleged captives; allegations of crimes,
war crimes and other wrongful acts; landmines and unexploded ordnance; displaced
persons; border tensions; cultural heritage; hate speech.
Trilateral statement of 9-10 November 2020Note
8. The war broke out on 27 September
2020 and after 6 weeks, the Trilateral statement of 9-10 November 2020
provided the main elements of a cease-fire and created a framework
to solve many of the humanitarian consequences. It was signed by
the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr Ilham Aliyev, the
Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, Mr Nikol Pashinyan, and
the President of the Russian Federation, Mr Vladimir Putin.
9. The statement included an agreement that Armenia and Azerbaijan
(the parties) remain in their current positions, and that there
be a phased return of certain regions. This effectively led to the
return of the seven surrounding districts and parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh
10. The statement gave a major role of peacekeeping to the Russian
Federation for a five-year renewable period, deployed in parallel
with the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces.
11. The statement also provides for guaranteed safety along the
Lachin corridor to allow communication between Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh
12. An important provision provides for the unblocking of all
economic and transport links between the western regions of Azerbaijan
and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.
Essential to this report on the humanitarian consequences
of the conflict, are two provisions on displaced persons and on
prisoners of war and the dead, namely:
- “Internally displaced persons and refugees shall return
to Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the control of the
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”
- “An exchange of prisoners of war, hostages and other detained
persons and bodies of the dead is to be carried out.”
missing and wounded
14. The military death toll from
the recent 6-week war is understood to stand at 3 945 Armenians
and 2 907 Azerbaijanis.
15. In terms of civilian casualties, the Armenian Human Rights
Defender has signalled 163 and the Azerbaijani side has given a
number of 548 (including 95 civilian deaths).
16. One of the major problems following any war is locating and
returning the remains of missing persons. The 6-week war was conducted
partly in a mountainous region, heavily mined with the arrival of
snow, hard on the heels of combat. This made the location and return
of bodies all the more difficult. 243 Armenians and 7 Azerbaijanis
are still missing. With the assistance of the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC), the remains of 1 651 Armenians have been
returned, according to Azerbaijan, and 395 Azerbaijanis dead have been
returned by Armenia
17. The parties can, in general, be commended on their efforts
to find the remains of the missing from the 6-week war. This said,
finding the outstanding missing must not be the subject of politicisation,
and families of the missing require additional assistance. Further
steps are needed, and full ongoing co-operation is necessary under
article 8 of the Trilateral statement which requires the: “exchange
of … bodies of the dead … to be carried out.”
18. From the war in the nineties there are still 3 890 Azerbaijanis
unaccounted for (3 171 military and 719civilians) and around a thousand
Armenians, according to figures provided by each side. The families
of these persons are waiting for the return of their loved ones
almost 30 years on. Little progress has been made on these files
over the last decades and more should now be done. In the past,
an intergovernmental Commission was created to deal with the missing,
working with the ICRC. This has to be reinvigorated so as to continue
the work, and DNA labs need refurbishing and updating, so as to
provide answers to the families of the missing.
19. It is essential that both sides co-operate fully in the identification
of burial sites and the return of remains. The parties should co-operate
fully with each other, with the ICRC and the Russian peacekeepers,
who have been playing an important role in enabling access to recent
battlefields and facilitating contacts between the two sides.
Families of the missing have the right to know and require
social and psychological support. Women are usually the ones left
to pick up the pieces and have particular needs as heads of households.
Both sides should give consideration to preparing a generic law
on the missing, in co-operation with ICRC, so as to regulate the different
issues arising and the needs of the families. In this, consideration
should be given to previous recommendations of the Assembly.Note
of war / alleged detainees
21. Article 8 of the Trilateral
statement provides that “An exchange of prisoners of war … is to
be carried out.”
22. Of the different humanitarian issues, the question of prisoner
release has become one of the most difficult. Its importance has
taken on an additional dimension in the light of the inter-state
cases and individual petitions introduced before the European Court
of Human Rights.
23. Both sides are under an obligation to make lists of the persons
detained and share these with the ICRC as well as facilitate visits
to the detainees.
24. Azerbaijan has, as at the beginning of August 2021, returned
103 captives, according to Armenia, including civilians, and Armenia
21 captives, according to Azerbaijan. Both sides maintain they have
returned or released all prisoners of war, but this is contested
25. There are essentially two different issues at play. The first
is a dispute over the categorisation of those detained by Azerbaijan
after the signing of the Trilateral Statement. Azerbaijan still
held around 45 persons at the beginning of August 2021. This includes
many of the 62 Armenian soldiers captured in the area of Hadrut (sometimes
the area is referred to as Caylaqqala/Khtsaberd) after the signing
of the Trilateral statement. The second is the issue of the whereabouts
of those said to have been captured during the war and allegedly
seen in captivity or filmed in captivity, about whom the Azerbaijani
authorities indicate they have no information.
Hadrut 62 and other captives following the Trilateral statement
26. According to Azerbaijan, these
persons were captured on 11-12 December 2020, several weeks after the
entry into force of the ceasefire. It is claimed they were a terrorist-sabotage
group deployed within Azerbaijan which allegedly killed four Azerbaijani
soldiers and seriously wounded one civilian. Five of the 62 were
returned to Armenia on humanitarian grounds, a further three were
released in May 2021, and others were released in June and July
as part of the release of a total of 30 persons in two groups of
15. This happened at the same time as mine maps were handed over.
The Azerbaijani authorities continue to maintain that those detained
are not prisoners of war but are terrorists and not covered by article
8 of the Trilateral statement.
27. The Armenian authorities deny these persons were involved
in terrorist activities and state they were carrying out legally
mandated military service. They point to the fact that Hadrut was
surrounded, and it was a military operation by Azerbaijan to take
control of the area.
The exact circumstances of their capture remain unclear but
would appear to be linked to the 6-week war and its consequences.
There have been many calls by the international community for the
captives to be released,Note
and the rapporteur
joins these calls.
It is important to note that the ICRC has access to these
detainees and visits them on a monthly basis. The ICRC facilitates
letters and video calls with family members. The Commissioner for
Human Rights (Ombudsman) of the Republic of Azerbaijan, has informed
the rapporteur that she visited detainees on four occasions and
found them to be well treated. Testimonies from captives returned
to Armenia paint a different picture.Note
30. The rapporteur made repeated requests to be able to meet the
captives himself, before and during his fact-finding visit to Azerbaijan
in July 2021, not only to verify the well-being of the persons concerned,
but also as a means of confidence building for both sides. He regrets,
very much, that this request was not granted, notwithstanding the
explanation given that visits were restricted to specialised bodies.
In view of the opaqueness of the situation of Armenian captives,
allegations of ill treatment covered later in this report, and that
the only international body able to visit captives so far is the
ICRC, the rapporteur considers it is essential that the Council
of Europe’s own monitoring body, the European Committee for the
Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
(CPT), undertakes a visit as soon as possible. Furthermore, as both
the ICRC and the CPT work under strict codes of confidentiality,
it is essential that there be more openness about the situation
of these captives. This is important in the light of the following
captives unacknowledged by the Azerbaijani authorities
31. Figures of hundreds of individuals
allegedly held secretly in captivity have been spoken of, but there
are many who have fallen in the war and who are missing. There are
others who may have been identified in videos by multiple families
wanting to believe the same person in a blurred image is their son.
32. Nonetheless, the rapporteur has been shown alleged evidence
of 31 individuals held captive, including videos, photographs and
information on the place and circumstances of their capture and
their identities. The rapporteur has also been shown alleged evidence
of others held in captivity without the means to identify precisely
who they are, only that they are captives and not persons otherwise
identified. This information is available to the European Court
of Human Rights and in the hands of the Armenian and Azerbaijani
authorities. The rapporteur was able to hand over the list of 31 individuals
mentioned, to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan and
also the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of the Republic
of Azerbaijan during his visit.
33. The Azerbaijani authorities have not been able to acknowledge
the whereabouts or fate of these individuals which raises serious
concerns, including the prospect of enforced disappearances. This
is all the more disconcerting in the light of allegations of crimes,
war crimes and other wrongful acts covered later in this report.
34. The Azerbaijani authorities have reportedly set up a task
force to look into the fate of these persons and other issues relating
to alleged human rights violations. They have said they will be
sending, in batches, information on their findings to the European
Court of Human Rights. It is crucial that this is followed up by
the authorities without delay and that full co-operation is extended
to the European Court of Human Rights.
European Court of Human Rights and interim measures
35. The cornerstone of the Council
of Europe is its European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5).
It is the single most important commitment of member States to which
both Armenia and Azerbaijan have signed up. The findings of its
Court are judicial and non-political and binding on member States.
Since the outbreak of the 6-week war, the European Court of
Human Rights has received many requests for interim measures. In
a decision of 29 September 2020 the Court applied Rule 39, “calling
on both Azerbaijan and Armenia to refrain from taking any measures,
in particular military actions, which might entail breaches of the
Convention rights of the civilian population, including putting
their life and health at risk, and to comply with their engagements
under the Convention, notably in respect of Article 2 (right to
life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment) of the Convention.”Note
37. On 6 October the Court applied Rule 39 again, calling on all
States directly or indirectly involved, including Turkey, to respect
their obligations under the Convention.
lodged by Armenia against Azerbaijan on 18 October and by Azerbaijan against
Armenia on 26 October, and on 4 November the Court clarified that
the application of Rule 39 included also “the Convention rights
of those who are captured during the conflict and those whose rights
might otherwise be violated.”Note
39. In addition to the inter-State requests, the Court received
numerous requests under Rule 39 lodged against both sides.
Against this backdrop the European Court of Human Rights,
on 16 March 2021,Note
made a statement concerning alleged
captives, taking the unusual step of notifying the Committee of
Ministers of interim measures.
41. The Court informed the Committee of Ministers that these measures
remained in force concerning 188 Armenians allegedly captured by
Azerbaijan and that the Azerbaijani Government had failed “to respect
the time-limits …” and commented on the “rather general and limited
information provided by them.” At the same time, and for the sake
of completeness, the Court explained it had suspended the examination
of Rule 39 cases concerning 16 Azerbaijanis captured.
of the Parliamentary Assembly
On 13 April 2021, after discussion
in the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, the Chair,
Mr Pierre-Alain Fridez (Switzerland, SOC) made a statement expressing
deep concern about the fate of the alleged captives and missing
persons in the context of the 16 March press release of the Court.
The Assembly organised a current affairs debate on 20 April 2021
entitled “Armenian prisoners of war, other captives and displaced
persons,” and the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and
Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring
Committee) issued a statementNote
on 22 April, in which
it reiterated “that the clear intention of Article 8 of the Trilateral
Statement was the exchange of all detained persons, without distinction
as to the status of these people assigned by one of the parties.”
43. One can welcome the recent
release of some of the post Trilateral statement captives (notably
the two releases of 15 persons on 12 June and 3 July 2021). Most
of the remaining captives are facing or have undergone criminal
trials, and Armenia contends that they are being held and tried
on trumped up charges without appropriate European Convention on
Human Rights safeguards. They have petitioned the European Court
of Human Rights on this issue.
At the end of July 2021, it is reported that more than 60
most of whom were captured after the
cease-fire are standing trial or have been convicted. Thirty nine
Armenians have been sentenced to six years in prison in three trials,
and another two have received sentences of four years. Twelve were
sentenced to six months and were released and repatriated to Armenia
in a Russian-brokered trade involving the handing over of landmine
maps. A Lebanese-Armenian was sentenced to 20 years in prison and a
Russian-Armenian was detained in Baku and sentenced to 10 years
in prison for “terrorist actions” and “illegal border crossing”.
45. For the rapporteur the types of charges put forward and the
speed with which they have been dealt with, raise concerns about
the fairness of the proceedings and the politicisation of the issue
of the captives. This frustrates attempts to build confidence between
the two countries and affects those held in captivity and their families.
These captives should be released without delay.
of crimes, war crimes and other wrongful acts
46. A great deal of information
has been circulated on social media, recorded by reputed international NGOs,
documented by the Human Rights Defender and Ombudsman on both sides,
and included in inter-state cases, and individual cases brought
before the European Court of Human Rights.
47. Highly disturbing images, videos and post-mortem details
have been sent to the rapporteur, including of alleged horrific
executions of both Armenian and Azerbaijani captives, mutilation
of fallen soldiers and the torture of prisoners of war.
Amnesty International, on 10
December 2020, reported extrajudicial killings, including the alleged decapitation
or throat slitting of two Armenians and one Azerbaijani.Note
An in-depth report by the International Partnership for Human
Rights and Truth Hounds (IPHR/Truth Hounds)Note
since gone on to document the alleged execution of four Armenian
combatants, and an enforced disappearance and alleged murder of
three Armenian civilians.Note
have also reported prima facie
of two videos purporting to show extrajudicial killings of Azerbaijani
The rapporteur has also been presented with many more cases
than those contained in the above reports, including allegationsNote
of 19 extrajudicial killings
of Armenians (civilians and combatants) by Azerbaijani forces. He
has received specific evidence on most of these allegations, which
he understands are part of a larger number of allegations included
in the inter-State cases or individual petitions presented to the European
Court of Human Rights.Note
The rapporteur is aware that there are allegations of serious
crimes dating back to the 1991-1994 war and new evidence continues
to be unearthed in particular by the Azerbaijani side.Note
While it is not in the realms of
this report to try to cover these, they will need full investigation.
The rapporteur is also aware of alleged cases of hostage taking
going back decades.
of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment
Human Rights Watch on 10 December
2020 reported evidence of physical abuse and humiliation of Armenian
prisoners of war held by the Azerbaijani authoritiesNote
this up with a further report on 19 March 2021 on alleged torture
and abuse of Armenian captives.Note
IPHR/Truth Hounds has also documentedNote
ill treatment, violence and abuse of Armenian prisoners of war,
including civilians, by member of the Azerbaijani armed forces,
the military police and state security. In particular they have
looked into the cases of two Armenian prisoners of war and four
Furthermore, the rapporteur has been furnished with substantial
information from a range of other sources alleging abuse of Armenian
civilians and military in Azerbaijani captivity, including from
the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia,Note
and witness statements
of former captives and other information from the lawyers of captives.
The rapporteur understands that criminal cases have been initiated
by the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan on some of these cases.
There is however no indication of the results of these investigations.
There are also seven incidents of alleged ill-treatment of
Azerbaijani captives by Armenian forces documented by IPHR/Truth
Hounds and a further three cases of ill treatment, captured on video
which they state require further investigation. The rapporteur has
received information from other sources, including from the Commissioner
for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of the Republic of Azerbaijan,Note
these allegations. The rapporteur is not aware of any investigations
into any of these incidents by the Armenian authorities.
of the dead
56. Both sides have provided the
rapporteur with information and videos relating to allegations of despoliation
of the dead, which is banned under the Geneva Conventions. The IPHR/Truth
Hounds have documented eight incidents by the Armenian side and
at least two incidents by the Azerbaijani side. The Azerbaijani
Prosecutor General’s Office has announced that four Azerbaijani
servicemen have been arrested and charged. The outcome of the investigation
is not known. The rapporteur is not aware of any investigation on
the Armenian side.
use of weapons
57. The Armenian and Azerbaijani
authorities accuse each other of killing citizens by the indiscriminate
use of weapons, including cluster munitions, ballistic missiles
and imprecise rockets and artillery. They also accuse each other
of using phosphorous munitions which set fire to forests in the
The Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Mr Pierre-Alain
Fridez, at the height of the war made a statementNote
for missile strikes on civilian areas to stop. He referred specifically
to Armenian strikes on the town of Barda, reportedly killing 21,
and to an Azerbaijani strike which hit a maternity hospital and
other infrastructure in the city of Stepanakert/Khankendi. These
are just two examples.
Amnesty International, in a 22-page report entitled “In the
line of Fire”,Note
documented how both Armenia and Azerbaijan carried out disproportionate
and indiscriminate attacks, referring to at least 94 Azerbaijani
civilians killed and 52 Armenians. According to Amnesty International
“Armenian forces employed ballistic missiles, and unguided artillery
and multiple rocket launchers (MLRS). Azerbaijani forces also used
unguided artillery and MLRS, as well as loitering munitions and
missiles launched by drones.”
A report by IPHR/Truth Hounds went on to independently verify
46 reported bombings of civilians or civilian infrastructure finding
that 32 of these amounted to “disproportionate attacks on civilians
in violation of IHL and the right to life, of which 23 were perpetrated
by Azerbaijani armed forces leading to 20 civilian deaths, and nine
were perpetrated by the armed forces of Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh
resulting in 80 civilian deaths.”Note
report goes on to detail attacks by the Azerbaijani armed forces
on Stepanakert/Khankendi, Martakert/Agdere, Martuni/Khojavend, Mets
Masrik/Boyuk Mezre, Hadrut, Nngi/Jamiyyat and Chartar/Guneykhirman.
It provides information on attacks by the Armenian armed forces
on Ganja, Qarayusifli, Barda, Terter, Gashalti and Mingachevir.
There are also separate allegations that Baku was unsuccessfully targeted.Note
61. A full picture of the allegations and the weapons used and
the destruction on both sides, is available from the Armenian and
Azerbaijani sides, including from the Human Rights Defender of the
Republic of Armenia and the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman)
of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Both sides during the war had a responsibility
to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians
from explosive weapons bound to have a wide impact in civilian areas.
In view of the number of strikes on civilian areas, both sides must have
been aware of the effect their attacks would have on civilians.
of mercenaries and foreign fighters during the recent 6-week war
The UN Working Group on the
use of mercenaries has commentedNote
reports that Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s assistance, used Syrian fighters
during the six-week war, including on the frontline. The fighters
appeared to be motivated primarily by private gain and in the case
of death their relatives were reportedly promised financial compensation
as well as Turkish nationality. The Chair of the Working Group indicated
that the way these individuals were recruited, transported and used
in and around the conflict zone appeared to be consistent with the
definition of a mercenary. The rapporteur has seen photographs and
videos and reportsNote
which back up these allegations.
The UN Working Group also received reports indicating that
Armenia used foreign nationals during the six-week war. The rapporteur
received a detailed list of Armenians from different countries and
a number of other nationals alleged to be involved.Note
remarks on allegations of crimes, war crimes and other wrongful
64. While both sides deny the authenticity
of certain information, there is evidence of an extremely disturbing nature,
that cannot be put aside, and both countries need to fully investigate
the allegations and bring to justice anyone, including at command
level, found to be responsible for crimes, war crimes and other
wrongful acts. Both countries should co-operate fully with the European
Court of Human Rights on the complaints lodged against them. Turkey
also needs to co-operate fully with the Court in relation to accusations
made by Armenia, including on the issue of recruitment of mercenaries.
Unless there is accountability and compensation for victims, and
unless there is some form of truth and reconciliation, these allegations
of crimes, war crimes and other wrongful acts will poison relations
between the two countries for generations, and the consequences
of the conflict will linger.
and unexploded ordnance
65. The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh
region is said to have resulted in one of the most contaminated regions
in the world. Both sides planted mines in the early 1990s and afterwards.
New mines were reportedly laid by retreating Armenian forces in
the 6-week war.
66. Mines are not generally prohibited under international law.
The use of mines is, however, strictly limited by codified general
principles of the law of war.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are not parties to many of the international
texts and as such this complicates the demining of the conflict
region. Nonetheless, according to customary international humanitarian
law, demining is in principle the responsibility of the party that
has carried out the mining.Note
in peace agreements, plans for mine clearance must be exchanged
between the parties and forwarded to the UN Secretary General, and
responsibility for mine clearance has to be defined.
of mines and unexploded ordnance
It is impossible to give an
accurate figure although it can be said that all regions affected
by the conflict have been affected by mines and unexploded ordnance.Note
69. Mine clearance has been an ongoing struggle for both sides,
even before the six-week war.
On the Azerbaijani side, mine clearance has been strengthened
since the signing of an agreement between the ANAMA (Azerbaijan
National Agency for Mine Action) and the United Nations Development Program
(UNDP), in March 2021. This co-operation is not new, and ANAMA and
the UNDP have jointly eliminated more than 800 000 mines and other
explosive objects over the past 20 years.Note
71. On the Armenian side, the British charity HALO Trust is helping
in mines clearance. Since 2000, it has provided the only large-scale
mine clearance capacity in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, clearing
almost 500 minefields.
72. The conflict area remains riddled
with mines, and casualties are high.
Between 1999 and 2017, 147 Armenians and 373 Azerbaijanis
were said to be victims of mines,Note
and accidents continue to occur.
According to the Azerbaijani authorities, since the end of the 6-week
war 140 persons have been injured, including 27 killed.
Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of not providing maps of the minefields.
For many months after the end of the war, no progress was made on
this, but on 12 June 2021, Armenia provided maps indicating 97 000
mines in the region of Aghdam, while simultaneously Azerbaijan released
15 Armenian captives. This was an important step in confidence building
and cleared the way to a further handing over of maps of 92 000
mines in the Fuzuli and Zangilan districts on 3 July 2021 along
with a further release of 15 Armenian captives. Mine maps from other
districts could reveal, once handed over, up to a million further
mines, according the Azerbaijani authorities.Note
75. The situation is clear on a humanitarian front and in terms
of international humanitarian law. Both sides need to co-operate
fully, and Armenia is obliged to share, without delay, the maps
that it has in its possession. This is essential to minimise the
ongoing loss of life and allow the gradual return of displaced persons
to these mined areas.
76. Both countries require assistance in clearing mines. This
includes human resources, equipment, training and funding. In the
latter respect, it is important to note that the average cost of
removing a single mine ranges from US$300 to US$1 000. It should
also be kept in mind that relevant mine and unexploded ordnance awareness
programmes are essential for the civilian population and support
for victims has to be provided.
77. Not since the arrival of around
300 000 refugees and displaced persons from the 1990’s war and events preceding
it, has Armenia faced such a displacement. At the height of the
6-week war there were around 91 000 displaced persons (predominantly
women and children and elderly men). Most found accommodation and
shelter in Yerevan or elsewhere in Armenia, many staying with host
families. Short term accommodation was also provided in hotels and
other places, often in regions close to the conflict. The spread
of Covid-19 during the period, exacerbated the problem of dealing
with the needs of the displaced persons.
78. Of those who were originally displaced, many returned to Stepanekert/Khankendi
and other parts of the Nagorno-Karabakh region which remained under
the control of Armenia.
As at the end of May 2021 there remained 36 882Note
the conflict living in a refugee-like situation.Note
85 % of them
women and children. There are some who will return when they are
more certain of security (particularly women and children), and
there are some who plan to move abroad. There is a large category
of around 24 615 who come from areas returned under Azerbaijani
control and the rapporteur understands that there have been no returns
to these areas and the persons concerned are unlikely to return.Note
have now largely dried up to a trickle and even if returns are the
favoured option, these should be voluntary, in safety and in dignity
and no undue pressure should be put on persons to return.
80. The first priority that the Armenian authorities faced at
the outbreak of the six-week war was dealing with basic humanitarian
needs, including shelter, food, medical matters and education for
children. In the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where the UN and UNHCR
and other international organisations do not have access, the ICRC
was almost the only international presence, along with the HALO
Trust (demining), Doctors Without Borders and a few other NGOs.
81. For those displaced, while they have the same rights as citizens
of the Republic of Armenia, they remain socially and psychologically
vulnerable similar to those in a refugee situation.
82. The Armenian Government allocated financial support to those
affected by the conflict, including the displaced, the families
of civilian victims and persons with disabilities, those who lost
their homes, family members of missing servicemen and injured servicemen.
They provided medical care and unemployment benefit for displaced
persons and assistance for those who hosted displaced persons.
83. According to the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, the education
of about 30 000 school and kindergarten children was affected, and
12 kindergartens and 71 schools were damaged or destroyed.
In the first days of the war, once the primary needs of food,
hygiene and shelter were catered for, the authorities started providing
cash assistance/monthly allowances. The rapporteur understands that
the continuation of these cash support programmes will be a challenge,
including for international organisations providing funding, as
they require guarantees to ensure delivery in line with donor requirements.Note
85. Alongside cash assistance one of the major priorities is to
provide long term shelter for those displaced and unlikely to return.
This means building new houses and apartments and dealing with,
in the longer term, issues of property rights.
86. Providing livelihoods for those who cannot return is also
a challenge. Over 50% are women and there is a need to tailor support,
including temporary job creation schemes in their favour. Public
works are now the main source of employment, but this creates a
gender challenge as most jobs are seen to be “for men”. Many persons
are also racking up debts and require income to pay for rent, so
access to work is important. There is also the dimension that employment
gives in terms of self-satisfaction.
87. Children make up between 32-42% of the displaced, and while
their basic needs are being met, further access to education (for
example, access to computers and computer tablets, and ensuring
that shelters are closer to schools) and psycho-social support,
88. Those who remained in the Nagorno-Karabakh region or returned,
are facing a range of problems as outlined to the rapporteur by
persons from the region when he met with them in Yerevan or in on-line
meetings. They feel isolated and frustrated with the international
community, and as one person said, “during the war no one came,
after the war no one came”. This is a reference to the lack of access
to the territory, and presence in the territory, by international
organisations (with the exception of the ICRC).
Persons from the region also raised what they felt were existential
threats to their future, referring to hate speech and alleged atrocities
committed during the six-week war. They spoke as well of insecurity
due to the vicinity of Azerbaijani troops, shots being fired day
and night, and security concerns when on the road (particularly
if crossing between sides), in the fields and visiting graves.Note
Threats from mines and unexploded ordnance
also remain an issue.
90. Their basic needs are apparently being met, even if there
are pockets of problems. A number of houses were destroyed during
the recent war and the housing stock is insufficient to house those
displaced, including those from other parts of the conflict region
who wish to resettle. There are plans to build 1 600 houses, including
1 000 houses which are to be provided by the Russia Federation.
Electricity has been a problem as the number of power plants has
reportedly been reduced from 36 to 6 due to the war, and water supply
has also reportedly been a problem. Furthermore, for those injured
during the war, rehabilitation and health care often means travelling
91. In terms of livelihoods, there is not much available in the
Nagorno-Karabakh region, apart from public employment and temporary
employment contracts, which is why direct financial assistance is
required. Financial strain is however alleviated through the provision
of utilities free of charge. There is a lack of jobs for women and
capacity building is needed to promote livelihoods, which is something
the international community could support and promote more.
92. In terms of assistance, the
ICRC plays an essential role, being almost the only international
organisation that has access to the whole conflict region. During
and after the end of the conflict it has provided medical supplies,
food parcels, hygiene items, heaters, financial assistance, water
and habitat support, education materials for children as well as
briefings on weapons contamination. It has also visited prisoners
of war, undertaken prisoner exchanges, and assisted with the location
of missing persons and the return of the remains of the fallen.
The ICRC has been financially supported, in particular by the European
Union, and at the end of June 2021 the ICRC announced an increase
in its mission budget for the Nagorno-Karabakh region to a level
of €50 million.
93. Under paragraph 7 of the Trilateral statement, it is provided
that “Internally displaced persons and refugees shall return to
Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the control of the Office
of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees”, however UNHCR has so
far not been able to negotiate access, and the same applies to other
UN agencies and international organisations, including the Council
of Europe. This is highly regrettable, and both Armenia and Azerbaijan
share a responsibility for the situation which adversely affects the
delivery of humanitarian aid, the rights of the persons living in
the area and the ability to monitor what is happening. The rapporteur
recognises that his report is weakened by his inability to visit
the conflict region and see for himself.
In order to deal with displacement and other humanitarian
issues, the United Nations has set up a co-ordination structure
under the lead of a Resident Coordinator’s Office and UNHCR. For
requires US$62.1 million. It carries out work under a number of
working groups and sub-working groups. These include “Protection”,
focusing on those living in a refugee-like situation, “Shelter and
Non-Food Items”, including the “Cash-Sub-Working Group”. Other working
groups cover “Food Security and Nutrition”, “Health” and “Early
Recovery” which provides livelihoods to those who cannot return.
95. The European Union has been a major donor, and since the start
of hostilities in September 2020, provided €17 million in assistance
to the persons most affected. It is a major donor to Armenia in
general and stated, on 9 July 2021, that it would mobilise a further
€1 billion in assistance which goes beyond the €1.6 billion previously
The Russian Federation has also been providing substantial
aid to victims of the conflict and in April 2021 it was reportedNote
to have provided US$15 million
aid to victims, working through its Interagency Center for Humanitarian
Reaction. In addition, it has played an important role in securing
the Trilateral statement, and its peacekeeping contingent has helped
to guarantee security and stability and assisted in the location
of missing persons.
towards a medium and long-term recovery
97. In general, there is a necessity
to move towards a medium and long-term recovery on the basis of
on-going needs assessments to be undertaken with international donors,
focusing in particular on those who are unable to return as well
as the most vulnerable. The rapporteur understands that Armenia
is preparing a large-scale humanitarian appeal. it is important
that this focusses not only on recovery but also on peace building. The
Council of Europe in its current Action Plan for Armenia, and in
preparing a new Action Plan (2023-2026), could provide expertise
in designing and implementing policies towards displaced persons
to ensure they are human rights compatible. Consideration should,
in particular, be given to confidence building / peace building measures,
gender equality, tolerance and property issues.
98. For Azerbaijan the six-week
war has had major consequences for displaced persons. Around 40 000 were
temporarily displaced during the recent war, almost all of whom
have returned. The great challenge now is the return and settlement
of displaced persons and refugees from the 1990s, where estimates
are given of around 650 000 internally displaced, approximately
200 000 refugees and 45 000 Meskhetian Turk refugees.
99. Of the 40 000 persons displaced during the recent war, almost
all have been able to return, and their homes, where damaged, have
either been repaired or are under repair. Children whose schooling
was disrupted have been able to return.
In relation to the displaced and the refugees from the 1990s
it has taken decades to deal with their transitory durable displacement.
More than 7.7 billion Azerbaijani Manats (€3.82 billion), including
1.4 billion provided by humanitarian agencies have been spent on
this. Legislation was adopted to deal with their needs, housing
was provided free of charge, monthly allowances were provided and
many of the displaced persons were employed by the State or in seasonal
work. Over 315 000 persons were provided with improved accommodation.
The Assembly had the possibility to look into their situation on
various occasions, including in Resolution 2214 (2018)
“Humanitarian needs and rights of internally displaced
persons in Europe”, Resolution 1497
“Refugees and displaced persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan
and Georgia”, and Recommendation 1570
“Situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia”.
101. Now that it is possible to plan for returns, a new law on
returnees is under preparation and the views of UNHCR are under
consideration. Before these people return, the territories need
demining and only then can re-construction take place. According
to a recent survey, 65 % of those displaced want to go back and
the authorities believe more will wish to return once infrastructure
is in place. The extent of the challenge is huge and there will
be many associated issues, including providing basic infrastructure,
livelihoods, healthcare, education, etc. To deal with this, 17 working
groups have been set up across state entities, handling the logistics
of such a large operation. This will take not just years, but possibly
decades, although the first pilot resettlement could occur in 2023.
The ministry of Economy has developed a draft “State programme on
the restoration and sustainable development of the liberated territories
of Azerbaijan for 2021-2025”. It aims to restore and reconstruct
the liberated territories, integrate them into the country's economy,
ensure sustainable and balanced development, and achieve high standards
of social welfare.
102. The rapporteur was able to visit one of the areas concerned,
Aghdam, and see the total destruction and view the project for reconstruction.
This will be part of a plan to build 9-10 new cities, ensuring sustainable
living conditions in smart city projects. The project will need
to take into account that many of those displaced from the region
previously worked in agriculture but are now urbanised. The authorities
do not plan to rush these projects and sensibly prefer to go at
a pace which assures their success.
There is currently limited assistance provided by the international
community to Azerbaijan. While during the 6-week war, the authorities
chose to handle the displacement challenge on their own, dealing
with the return of the displaced from the early 1990s will be a
much more complex and expensive issue. UNHCR and UN agencies have
offered to help,Note
particular on legal aspects and property issues linked to return.
The European Union has recently put forward an aid package of €140
million in favour of Azerbaijan. This is substantially less than
that provided to Armenia. The international community is encouraged
to provide assistance to Azerbaijan for both recovery and peace
104. The Trilateral Statement provides
in Article 1 for “A complete ceasefire and termination of all hostilities in
the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” and for “The Republic
of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia … (to) … stop in their
105. The recent border tensions started on 12 May 2021 with alleged
border incursions by Azerbaijan into the Armenian region of Syunik,
and more particular the area of Black Lake. On the same day Azerbaijani
media reported Azerbaijani armed forces would soon be holding military
exercises with up to 15 000 troops, 300 tanks and other equipment.
This created even greater tension in the region.
106. In relation to this incident, Azerbaijan said their troops
were taking up positions after the winter and were not deployed
on Armenian territory and disputed the maps in Armenia’s hands and
put forward other maps.
107. Armenia triggered Article 2 of the Collective Security Treaty
which provides “In case of menace to safety, stability, territorial
integrity and sovereignty of one or several Member States …” a mechanism
of joint consultations to coordinate positions and take appropriate
measures can be launched.
108. Steps were however taken over the next days to ease tension
with the involvement of Russian peacekeepers, and also mediation
at a political level with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the
Russian Federation, France and Tajikistan (who chairs the Collective
Security Treaty Organization). All sides stressed the importance
of resolving tension through political and diplomatic means.
Since then, border incidents have continued on a semi-regular
basis at different points along the border. There have been people
injured and killed and Armenian servicemen have been detained,Note
a request for interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights
to protect their rights.
Incidents have continued throughout June and July 2021, with
regular allegations of shots being fired by both sides, and further
skirmishes leading to injuries and loss of life. The rapporteur
felt compelled to make a statement on 30 July 2021, regretting the
death of three Armenian servicemen and one Azerbaijani serviceman,
calling on the parties to de-escalate and noting that the long-standing
humanitarian concerns affecting the lives of individuals, each side
of the border, cannot be addressed unless violence stops. The Co-Chairs
of the OSCE Minsk Group also made a statement calling for immediate
de-escalation and comprehensive implementation of the truce of 9
November. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs joined in calls
on the parties to show restraint.Note
111. The rapporteur is not able to assess who is to blame for each
112. Allegations of shootings in the vicinity of border villages,
referred to on a number of occasions by the Human Rights Defender
of the Republic of Armenia, are of concern. This has a destabilising
impact on border communities, in terms of their security, well-being,
access to their pastures and communication links.
113. It is essential that there is a de-escalation and that both
sides adapt to a new proximity and the challenge this creates. It
is essential that talks on demarcation and delimitation continue
and further consideration should be given to having a monitoring
mission along the border, whether organised by the OSCE Minsk Group,
the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the UN or others. Both
sides should keep to the positions dictated under the Trilateral
statement and persons captured during border skirmishes should be
114. While it will take time to regulate and solve border issues,
the Trilateral statement does provide a positive hope for the potential
reopening of transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and
possibly as an offshoot, also between Armenia and Turkey. This will
bring benefits to all concerned and could be what is required to
start an effective process of reconciliation and peacebuilding.
Both sides will need to negotiate on this, and Azerbaijan should
refrain from any threat to open a right of passage by force.
115. The long running conflict has
had a devastating impact on the cultural heritage of the region
affecting both sides.
116. Azerbaijan points to massive destruction which took place
during the 1991-1994 war and its aftermath in the areas of Fuzuli,
Aghdam, but also in Shusha/Shushi and elsewhere. It also refers
to looting and destruction at the end of the 6-week war.
117. The ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan is currently carrying
out an investigation to determine the degree of cultural damage.
The results of the preliminary investigation indicate damage or
destruction of 706 State-registered historical and cultural monuments
(6 of world-class architecture, 5 of world class archaeology, 119 of
national importance, 121 of national archaeological importance),
along with damage or destruction to other architecture, parks, monument
and decorative-applied art of local importance and significance.
Azerbaijan also allegesNote
that more recently artefacts and ancient
manuscripts of 13th century Khudavang/Dadivank monastery as well
as precious artefacts found during archaeological excavations have been
illegally transported to Armenia.
119. Azerbaijan is currently negotiating with UNESCO concerning
access to the region to carry out an independent technical mission
with the aim of assessing the status of this heritage.
120. The rapporteur was able to see the extent of some of this
damage and destruction during his visit to Aghdam. The city, once
home to around 28 000 residents (with the region having well over
100 000 residents) is now an uninhabitable wasteland, not just because
of land mines but because almost all the buildings have been destroyed
and building materials or objects of value, even from graves, looted.
The Mosque in Aghdam with its two minarets, is more or less, the
only building left standing. It was allegedly used, for a period
of time until it was wired off, to keep livestock. The extent of
damage to homes and cultural heritage in particular in the seven
districts returned to Azerbaijan during and after the conflict is
massive and shocking and will take many years and substantial resources
to bring the area back to life. The first priority will be demining
and then infrastructure has to be created, homes built, services
provided, livelihoods created, and areas repopulated. The position
is dramatic, and as one senior member of the international community
commented to the rapporteur, “we should all have done more over
the last 30 years to prevent this level of destruction”.
Damage and destruction have also taken place of Armenian cultural
heritage. Evidence has been providedNote
the destruction in the 1990s of Armenian cultural heritage in Nakhchivan
Autonomous Republic, with allegations that 89 medieval churches,
5 840 carved-cross-stones (khachkars) and 22 000 historical tombstones
have been vandalized and ultimately erased.
During the 6-week war Armenia alleged the deliberate shelling
of the St Holy Saviour Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shusha/Shushi.
Human Rights Watch has documented the attack and noted from its
nature and the choice of guided weapon that “the church, a civilian
object with cultural significance, was an intentional target despite
the absence of evidence that it was used for military purposes”.Note
deliberate destruction raised by Armenia relates to the dome and
bell towers of the Kanach Zham (Green Church). Following the end
of the conflict, Armenia alleges ongoing acts of destruction, including
the removal of a recently constructed church (St Mary’s Church)
the demolition of the 18th century Armenian
cemetery in the village of Sghnakh/Signaq,Note
and the demolition
of the Armenian 19th century cemetery in the village of Mets Tagher/Boyuk
123. The rapporteur’s meeting with Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisyan
of the Mother See gave the rapporteur a sense of how important religious
monuments, churches, khachkars (stone-crosses) and other religious heritage
are for the people of Armenia and the extent of the concern for
the cultural heritage under Azerbaijani control since the end of
the 6-week war. This is said to include 161 churches and monasteries,
591 stone-crosses, 345 valuable tombstones, 108 cemeteries and sacral
sights, 43 fortresses and palaces, and 208 other types of monuments.
A further concern raised was for the security of the functioning
Monastery of Dadivank/Khudavang and for the clergy who have remained
under the security of Russian peacekeepers.
Armenia has furthermore alleged that Azerbaijan is actively
engaged in historical revisionism and cultural appropriation by
asserting that Armenian churches in the region are not Armenian
but “Caucasian Albanian” (an ancient Christian people from the early
medieval period). This revisionism, Armenia claims,Note
leading to the defacing and destruction of churches and monuments
and a general attempt to negate Armenia’s history and religion.
The rapporteur met with the State Service for Protection, Development
and Restoration of the Cultural Heritage of Azerbaijan during his
fact-finding visit to Baku. The importance of the “Caucasian Albanian”
heritage for Azerbaijan was emphasised and assurances were given
that Azerbaijan would do nothing to destroy what it considers to
be its own cultural heritage.
125. It is clear there has been extensive, wanton destruction of
the heritage of the region by both sides going back decades. This
spiral has continued during the 6-week war, leading to further destruction
of cultural heritage important for Armenians. There is evidence
that this destruction is continuing. There is an opportunity to
stop this cycle, and for this it is essential that UNESCO is given
access, as soon as possible, to all relevant areas in both countries.
126. The rapporteur is concerned about the current narrative being
developed in Azerbaijan promoting a “Caucasian Albanian” cultural
narrative while seeking to negate an “Armenian” cultural narrative.
While the whole region was certainly under the influence of different
religions and people over history, steps to create such a new narrative,
negating Armenian cultural heritage, in particular in the light
of and in response to a long running 30-year conflict, should be
avoided. This is a matter which UNESCO should look at to avoid manipulation
by one side, or the other.
127. To conclude, both sides have a justified deep sense of grievance,
but, as the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay said on 18
November 2020 after speaking to both sides, “damage to cultural property
belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural
heritage of all mankind”. She also recalled UN Security Council
resolution 2347 (2017), which stresses that “the unlawful destruction
of cultural heritage, looting and smuggling of cultural property
in the event of armed conflict, including by terrorist groups, and
attempts to deny historical roots and cultural diversity in this
context, can fuel and exacerbate conflicts and impede post-conflict
The rapporteur is greatly concerned
by hate speech and its consequences during the 6-week war. It has been
a long-standing problem as noted in reports of the European Commission
against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).Note
Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
also highlighted the issue in relation to Azerbaijan.
129. Generations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis have now been raised
with the rhetoric of hostility and hate, which has contributed to
the violence and the alleged abuse and atrocities and destruction,
committed during the 6-week war.
During the recent war the level of hate speech and hate crimes
on both sides reached a shocking level. Instances have been documented
by both the Human Rights Defender of ArmeniaNote
and the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman)
131. Many examples have been put forward, ranging from frequent
denigrating references to Armenians as “dogs”, and the Azerbaijanis
as “Turks”, new and old graffiti on churches and mosques, and there
have been serious cases of incitement to hatred and killings addressed
towards Armenians and Azerbaijanis, including towards children.
Horrendous alleged acts of abuse and executions have been filmed
and distributed on social media and should be considered as hate
crimes and legislated against, in so far as this is not already
the case. Persons responsible for spreading these types of messages
should be held accountable.
132. The rapporteur heard various statements during his fact-finding
visit that Azerbaijan was proud of its multiculturalism. Notwithstanding
this, statements at the highest level continue to portray Armenians
in such a way that cannot be considered as tolerant. With the 6-week
war over, now should be the time to build peace and reconciliation
and not a time of hate speech. No matter how bitter the war, or
the past, the way in which Azerbaijan’s victory has been portrayed
in the so-called military “Trophy Park” in Baku, in particular the mannequins
of Armenians shown in a denigrating fashion caricatured and stereotyped,
is not appropriate. As the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human
Rights said on 27 April 2021, “I consider such images highly disturbing
and humiliating …This kind of display can only further intensify
and strengthen long-standing hostile sentiments and hate speech,
and multiply and promote manifestations of intolerance.” The rapporteur
agrees. While the Azerbaijani authorities correctly refer to the
existence of war museums in other countries, the use of caricatured
and stereotyped mannequins exacerbates levels of intolerance and
should have no place in any museum or society.
133. Both sides allege that the other continue irredentist discourse
threatening their own territorial integrity, and this does not help
in terms of confidence building measures. Both sides should refrain
from any such hostile rhetoric.
134. The rapporteur understands that the recent war is still raw,
and that real tolerance will take years and possibly generations,
but both the Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have a responsibility
to stop the rhetoric of hatred, including for short term political
gain, and recognise the responsibility they have towards current
and future generations.
135. The Council of Europe can play a role in assisting both countries
in monitoring and dealing with hate speech. This should be a priority
action for the Council of Europe, building on work undertaken in
the past. A needs assessment should be carried out to assess how
best Council of Europe expertise, including its standards, monitoring
findings and co-operation efforts can be taken into account, and
the findings should be reflected in new Action Plans being prepared
for Azerbaijan (2022-2025) and Armenia (2023-2026). Encouraging
tolerance and tackling hate speech will require a long-term approach,
going beyond the use of criminal law in view of the sensitivity
of the issues involved, and will require genuine commitment of the
parties and sustained resources. This should be an important contribution
to confidence building between the two countries.
136. The Council of Europe will
have an important role to play as Armenia and Azerbaijan work towards
a post conflict situation. The humanitarian consequences as identified
in this report are significant and can only be dealt with over a
long period of time. Some form of truth and reconciliation will
be needed to allow both sides to move beyond the trauma, fear and
intolerance and even hatred that is still present, and the monitoring
bodies of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights,
and the intergovernmental and expert bodies, co-operation programmes
and country offices of the Council of Europe will each have a role
to play. The country specific Action Plans of the Council of Europe
will be essential and the new Action Plans under preparation for
Armenia (2023-2026) and Azerbaijan (2022-2025) will need to take
into account the challenges of dealing with the consequences of
a long-lasting conflict and the recent 6-week war.
137. Central to ongoing work will be strong and effective confidence-building
measures, which the Council of Europe has many years of experience
implementing, in order to little by little build co-operation among
different groups of the population. This will be a long-term process,
lasting not just years but decades, and will be important for ensuring
that the humanitarian consequences of the conflict between Armenia
and Azerbaijan do not continue to weigh heavily on future generations
of Armenians and Azerbaijanis.