Human Rights Watch denounces that Azerbaijan uses cluster bombs in Upper Karabakh

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The organization has documented at least four incidents with these munitions in the conflict between Baku and Yerevan, which have not signed the treaty that prohibits them.

The truces agreed in the Upper Karabakh have remained a dead letter. The confrontations between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the war for the mountainous enclave do not stop. The escalation in the South Caucasus is about to complete a month and the fatalities are already in the thousands. This Friday, a few hours before the foreign ministers of Yerevan and Baku meet again, this time with the Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo, to discuss the conflict, Human Rights Watch has denounced that Azerbaijan has used cluster bombs in residential areas of Upper Karabakh. Baku has not signed the 2008 treaty banning this type of ammunition, which has an indiscriminate and long-lasting effect on civilians; Nor Armenia. The conflict in Upper Karabakh (or Nagorno Karabakh), a region in internationally recognized territory as Azerbaijan and inhabited and controlled by ethnic Armenians, has consumed the region for three decades.

The civil rights organization has documented on the ground at least four incidents in which Baku has attacked residential areas of Upper Karabakh with cluster bombs and confirms the complaints of the authorities in the region, which highlight that roads, electricity, gas and communication networks also they have been badly damaged. The HRW report speaks of attacks on areas with numerous residential buildings where civilians live, including one a few meters from the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its experts say they have not been able to identify any military equipment or bases in the neighborhoods attacked with these cluster munitions, whose use in a residential civilian environment is prohibited by the laws of war.

Azerbaijan also denounced a few weeks ago that it had suffered cluster bomb attacks. However, those responsible for Human Rights Watch emphasize that Baku did not allow its team of specialists access to the front line controlled by the Azerbaijani Army or to areas that have been attacked to carry out an on-site investigation.

Despite the diplomatic contacts and the two ceasefire agreements negotiated under the mediation of Moscow, the hostilities have already claimed about 5,000 deaths, according to the data revealed on Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin; some 2,000 victims on each side in a conflict that has caused thousands of displaced people from the Upper Karabakh region – which calls for self-determination – to Armenia or other countries. The specialized organizations speak of a humanitarian emergency exacerbated, in addition, by the coronavirus pandemic.

This Friday, the leader of Nagorno Karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, has asked Putin to use all possible tools to stop the conflict in a heavily militarized area, which serves as a corridor for world energy markets: a gas pipeline completed at the end of last year it runs close to the front line of the conflict and extends from Azerbaijan through Turkey. Russia maintains a defense agreement with Armenia by which it would be forced to intervene if attacked, but it is also an ally of Azerbaijan; and sells arms to both countries. On Thursday, Putin, who stressed that Upper Karabakh is not Armenian territory, defined relations with Baku and Yerevan as “equal.”

Moscow thus aspires to maintain its position as a mediator in the region in which it has had diplomatic hegemony since the collapse of the USSR and in which it is trying to avoid the influence of Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan diplomatically and militarily, with which has strong ties. Turkish exports of drones, rocket launchers and other military equipment to Azerbaijan have increased six-fold this year and various reports from French, Armenian and Russian intelligence point to the involvement of Syrian mercenaries in support of Azerbaijani forces and financed by Ankara. Turkey denies it. The international community is concerned that the war will escalate into a regional conflict and draw Russia, in support of Armenia, and Turkey, to support Azerbaijan.

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