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Armenia takes Azerbaijan to the International Court of Justice

17 September 2021
The International Court of Justice building in the Hague. Official picture.

Armenia has filed a case against Azerbaijan at the International Court of Justice for the alleged racial discrimination of ethnic Armenians.

The UN court, based in the Hague, issued a statement on Thursday confirming the application against Azerbaijan for alleged violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

According to Armenia’s application, ‘for decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination’. 

‘As a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse’.

Azerbaijan has responded by stating that they intend to bring a similar case against Armenia. 

‘Azerbaijan will file a lawsuit against Armenia with the UN International Court [of Justice] for Yerevan’s permanent violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination’, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Leyla Abdullayeva told the media.

‘Following the Tripartite Declaration (signed by the heads of state of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 10, 2020), Armenia planted mines in areas it had occupied for a while in order to prevent the return of Azerbaijanis to their homes, refused to publish mine maps, and thus continued to violate the International Convention’, she added.


Armenia’s complaint

Armenia’s application comes almost a year after the outbreak of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and includes complaints going back decades, from Azerbaijan’s release of Ramil Safarov to the ‘incessant stream of anti-Armenian propaganda emanating from Azerbaijan’s leadership’ during the 2020 war. 

Armenia claims that Azerbaijan has committed ‘grave violations’ of the CERD. They accuse Azerbaijan of continuing ‘to engage in the murder, torture and other abuse of Armenian prisoners of war, hostages and other detained persons’ even after the Russia-brokered ceasefire in November 2020.

The application also referred to the ‘discrimination in employment, housing, health, and education’ that ethnic Armenians allegedly face in Azerbaijan and the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in the region.

In addition to the general complaint, Armenia also asked for provisional measures to be imposed ‘as a matter of extreme urgency’. 

In particular, the country requested the court order Azerbaijan to ‘release immediately all Armenian prisoners of war, hostages and other detainees in its custody’ and to stop the mistreatment of the captives.

‘Azerbaijan shall refrain from espousing hatred of people of Armenian ethnic or national origin’, the application reads. ‘Including by closing or suspending the activities of the Military Trophies Park’.

[Read on OC Media: Opinion | On the apologists of Baku's Military Trophy Park]

Armenia also requested that Azerbaijan be ordered to refrain from and prevent the destruction of Armenian historic monuments in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

Does the court have jurisdiction?

The International Court of Justice is one of the dispute resolution mechanisms for the countries that have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Armenia and Azerbaijan acceded to the convention in 1993 and 1996, respectively.  

According to the regulation, if neither parties ‘has made any reservations to Article 22 or to any other provision of the Convention’, one state may take another to the court.

Before applying to the ICJ, states that have a dispute with respect to the ‘interpretation or application’ of the CERD, should try to solve the dispute through negotiation or ‘by the procedures expressly provided for in the CERD’. 

In a similar case, Georgia applied against Russa days after the 2008 August War. Russia objected, claiming that  Georgia had ‘failed to exhaust a preliminary requirement … to attempt to resolve the dispute by negotiation before submitting it to the ICJ’. 

In 2011, the Court upheld Russia’s objection, and ‘noted that Georgia did not claim that, prior to seising the Court, it had used or attempted to use the procedures expressly provided for in CERD’. 

However, Armenia’s application claims to meet all the requirements of the Convention for the Court to proceed with the case.  

As evidence Armenia claims that it has repeatedly attempted to negotiate with Azerbaijan over their alleged violations of the CERD, citing the exchange of over 40 pieces of correspondence with Azerbaijan since the end of the war as well as seven rounds of meetings ‘in an effort to settle this dispute amicably’. 

According to Armenia, ‘Azerbaijan has steadfastly refused to acknowledge any merit to Armenia’s claims and requested remedies’ and that for now, ‘there is no reasonable prospect’ that Azerbaijan’s position will change, meeting the ICJ’s requirements for jurisdiction over the dispute.

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