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Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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Armenia and Azerbaijan Engulfed in Legal Disputes at the Hague

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged in a complex peace process while battling it out in international legal arenas.
  • Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh, while Azerbaijan argues the case falls outside the court's jurisdiction.
  • Prime Minister Pashinyan suggests dropping legal cases as part of a comprehensive peace deal, but faces criticism in Yerevan.
Azerbaijan Armenia

Armenia and Azerbaijan are engaged in a convoluted peace process in the Caucasus. But they are still tangled in a bitter fight in The Hague.

Over several days of hearings in mid-April, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ), based at the Dutch seat of government, weighed the merits of an Azerbaijani motion claiming the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over a three-year-old suit brought by Armenia. That suit demands that Azerbaijan face judgment for an array of war crimes, including fomenting hatred of Armenians that resulted in mass deaths and for systematically attempting to erase the vestiges of Armenian culture in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Baku reconquered last year. The takeover involved the mass expulsion of over 100,000 Karabakh Armenians from the territory.

In urging the court to proceed with the case, Armenia’s agent at the ICJ, Yeghishe Kirakosyan, characterized Azerbaijan’s aggression as racially motivated. “There is no better example of racial discrimination, upsetting peace and security, than Azerbaijan’s recent armed aggressions, which resulted in ethnic cleansing of all of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Kirakosyan said on April 16.

A day earlier, Azerbaijan sought a dismissal, arguing that the case fell outside the ICJ’s mandate, citing a technicality. 

Shortly after Armenia filed its suit with the ICJ in 2021, Azerbaijan submitted a similar lawsuit against Yerevan. It may take years for these cases to play out at the ICJ. In the meantime, the court has issued several injunctions, including a ruling handed down last fall that Armenian refugees who had been cleansed from Karabakh had a right to return “in a safe, unimpeded and expeditious manner,” if they wished to do so. 

In a separate development, a California-based rights advocacy group petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC), also headquartered in The Hague, submitting documentation on April 18 of Azerbaijani war crimes in Karabakh, according to an Associated Press report. Officials in Baku had no initial response to the submission. The petition urges the ICC to launch an investigation into the conduct of Azerbaijani citizens during the Karabakh conflict. Armenia became a state party to the ICC in early 2024 after ratifying the Rome Statute, the document that established the court. The ICC and ICJ are distinct legal venues: the ICJ has a broader mandate to address interstate legal disputes, while the ICC tries individuals, not states, in cases of war-related crimes.

The recent legal maneuvering in the Hague comes a month after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sent up a trial balloon, probing the possibility of both sides dropping their respective cases. During a March 12 news conference, Pashinyan wondered aloud about the utility of pressing on with the legal wrangling once both parties agree on a comprehensive peace deal. The suits could be halted as a final component of any peace agreement, he appeared to suggest.

The possibility of dropping efforts to obtain historical justice has prompted pushback from several different directions in Yerevan, uniting disparate segments of society against any such idea. Critics characterize it as another unilateral concession by the government, following closely on the heels of Pashinyan’s offer to return four disputed villages to Azerbaijan unconditionally out of a desire to hasten the conclusion of a peace agreement.

“It is again in favor of Azerbaijan,” said Artak Beglaryan, a former top official in the no-longer-existing, de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. “It is important to realize that these Azerbaijani complaints [in The Hague] are groundless, unlike the Armenian lawsuits. Baku filed a lawsuit to use it as a subject of political bargaining.”

Armenian human rights advocates have also tried to shoot down Pashinyan’s trial balloon. Over 40 Armenian non-governmental organizations issued a statement describing the ICJ process as critical for holding Azerbaijan accountable for human rights violations and crimes committed against Armenians. Stopping The Hague proceedings would undermine efforts to achieve justice for past victims and prevent future crimes.

“Peace cannot be stable and long-lasting if there is no attempt to restore justice, the purpose of which is not only to restore the violated right but also to prevent possible similar violations in the future”, the statement read. 


By  Eurasianet.org

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