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ICJ orders Azerbaijan to unblock Lachin Corridor

23 February 2023
The International Court of Justice. Image via the UN.

The International Court of Justice has ordered Azerbaijan to reopen the Lachin Corridor as food and energy shortages continue to grow in Nagorno-Karabakh.

On Wednesday, the UN court concluded that Azerbaijan should ‘take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions’.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population relies on the Lachin Corridor as the only road in and out of the region. The road has been been closed since 12 December by Azerbaijanis claiming to be eco-activists protesting mining in the region.

The ICJ decision noted that its provisional order had a ‘binding effect and thus create international legal obligations for any party to whom the provisional measures are addressed’. 

The case will be forwarded to the UN Security Council should Azerbaijan fail to comply with the court’s decision.

In addition to appealing to the court regarding the closure of the corridor, Armenia also asked the ICJ to rule on Azerbaijan’s support of the activists blocking the corridor and its alleged interruption of Nagorno-Karabakh’s gas supply.

Both requests were rejected.

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The court also rejected a request from Baku: to order Armenia to stop planting landmines or to sponsor their planting in ‘areas to which Azerbaijani civillians will return in Azerbaijan’s territory’.

Armenia sent its appeal to the ICJ in December shortly after the closure of the Lachin Corridor, while Azerbaijan submitted its request in early January.

Wednesday’s rulings concerned interim measures requested by both sides while the court considers larger cases, one submitted by Armenia in October last year and a similar one submitted by Azerbaijan a month later. The cases concern alleged violations of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Three months into the blockade

Both Yerevan and Stepanakert welcomed the ICJ’s ruling, with the Armenian Foreign Ministry saying it would ‘closely monitor’ the situation and inform the court of ‘any violations by Azerbaijan while Armenia’s case against Azerbaijan continues’.

The ministry also called on the international community to ‘take active steps to ensure the immediate implementation of the court’s decision by Azerbaijan’.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s President Arayik Harutyunyan hailed the the ruling as an ‘unobjectionable international legal basis, implying that the people of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh], subjected to racial discrimation and hatred, cannot live within Azerbaijan’.

The region’s State Minister Ruben Vardanyan stated that Nagorno-Karabakh could use ‘various mechanisms to show that our demands are justified’. 

Baku was quick to respond to the ICJ’s rulings, welcoming its rejection of Armenia’s two other appeals, and saying that ‘the Court took note of Azerbaijan’s representation that Azerbaijan has and undertakes to continue to take all steps within its power and at its disposal to guarantee safe movement along the Lachin Road’. 

The Azerbaijani ministry said that it would ‘continue to seek to hold Armenia to account’. 

Nagorno-Karabakh has been struggling to address food and gas shortages, forcing the authorities to introduce food rationing and the people of the region to rely on wood stoves for heating.

All supply chains and the transfer of patients in urgent need of medical assistance in Armenia have been interrupted since the Lachin Corridor closed three months ago.

[Read more on OC Media: Nagorno-Karabakh enters third month of blockade]

A number of Western countries and international human rights organisations have called on Azerbaijan and Russia to reopen the corridor, citing the 9 November tripartite agreement which stipulates that the road should be controlled by Russian peacekeepers.

Baku denies that the road is blocked citing the fact that Red Cross and Russian peacekeeper vehicles have been allowed to pass and deliver some humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

Read in Azerbaijani on Mikroskop Media.