Death of Humanity in Tigray and Nagorno-Karabakh Region

Death of Humanity in Tigray and Nagorno-Karabakh Region

This article is written by Lovika Jaiswal, a third-year LL.B student of Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi


Nagorno-Karabakh region, otherwise known as the “Republic of Artsakh”, is disputed land, however by the concept of “right to recognition” in international law, the UN and other countries considered it as a part of Azerbaijan. The population of this region is culturally Armenian and has declared it independent on the break-up Soviet Union in 1991.

It is clear the recently waged war by Azerbaijan to capture the area from Armenia has a long history[1] of conflict (from the 1980s), but our focus is that this region has been a center of violation of human rights. Moreover, we need to draw attention to the refugee crisis and crimes against humanitarian principles that took place in the region.

The circulation of videos and reports of Amnesty International has thrown light on torture, abuses, desecration of corpses, Mistreatment with war captives[2], and beheadings that have shaken the faith in humanity. The ongoing conflict took place during the time of the world health emergency-The Covid-19 Pandemic.

Many Human rights organizations have raised alarms about the grave violation of such rights, lights have been thrown on violation of humanitarian laws too and many news agencies have reported several war crimes that have taken place in the region. Azerbaijan in the war has celebrated their victory in Baku, but still, there is no light shed towards relief to refugees and people who are displaced internally. any humanitarian aid provided in the area.

Similarly, Eritrea troops fighting in northern Ethiopia in Tigray, popularly termed as “Tigrary crisis” has raised concern about the violation of Human rights and humanitarian principles. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, ordering an offensive in Tigray against the rival Tigray People’s Liberation (TPLF) has invited scathing criticism against his actions.

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The Ethiopian government had also postponed the elections (Which was supposed to be the first truly democratic election) due to the covid-19 emergency. The region has witnessed massive violence and amnesty international could not point fingers at who caused this violence. The corpses remain unburied[3] on the streets, the forces have attacked unarmed civilians in door-to-door raids, and they have looted the houses as reported by Amnesty International.

Attacking unarmed civilians is against International Humanitarian Law and is barred by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and Additional Protocol I of 1977, it puts an obligation on the belligerents to treat the civilians humanely, prohibit starving the people, giving collective punishments, and also provides protection to the civilian property[4]. Civilians are all those persons who are not directly involved in the conflict and are not armed.

United Nations’ refugee agency has highlighted that approximately 7000 Ethiopians have fled to Sudan after the Ethiopian government bombed the region, killing civilians as a consequence. It also reported that 96,000 Eritrean refugees and another 1,00,000 people have been displaced internally in Ethiopia.

The situation is such that draws concern towards grave violation of refugee laws as roads are blocked, Internet and phones are down, electricity is cut, banking service has halted, shortage of fuel have been reported, causing massive distress to the people of the region. All of this is against the Human Rights and The International Refugee Law. Protection to Refugees of a state involved in an armed conflict is also ensured by the IHL, the protection is enumerated in Article 73 of Additional Protocol I without any adverse distinctions.

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The interplay of International Humanitarian Law and Refugee Law

The entire purpose of IHL (International Humanitarian Law) is to prevent any War crimes, Crimes against Peace, and War of aggression. Jus in Bello regulates the conduct of troops and armed forces during a conflict and jus ad Bellum regulates the conduct of engaging in a war crime. It extends safety and security to both armed persons and civilians.

It makes it mandatory to treat the armed persons, shipwrecked, medical personnel, priests and bishops, and civilians, with dignity (also include respectful burial and no desecration of corpses) and puts the bar on torture in any form. The Geneva Conventions make it mandatory to provide all the basic necessary aids such as medical aid, distribution of food, water, shelter, and other things necessary for hygiene and sanitation.

Human Rights Law enumerates the obligation of governments of belligerent states to ensure the access and availability of education, safety, medical aid, dignity, food, water, shelter, etc. and this is where Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law coincides. The remedies and aids are wider in Human Rights Law as compared to International Humanitarian Law.

check out-National Food Security Act, 2013

It is pertinent to state that Human Rights Laws try to maintain peace throughout the time, although it applies during the conflict as well its majorly the provisions of international humanitarian law that applies during conflict situations. The International Humanitarian law applies when the conflicts start and cease to apply when the conflict stops. The refugee law applies after the crisis has taken place and relief has to be provided to the sufferers of the conflict(s).

Reports of the UN team in the Tigray crisis have highlighted a lot of people are begging for aid but they could not receive any aid, the area is still surrounded by army troops which is a violation of Refugee Laws. International Refugee Laws[5] protect two categories:

  1. General Protections: It prohibits the displacement of civilians in the first place unless people are being evacuated. It ensures that people are not forced to displace following attacks and effects of hostilities. It ensures all the basics facilities are provided if people are displaced as nutrition, shelter, security, etc. It also puts a bar on separating the family members during the conflict, and
  2. Specific Protections: This is related to people who have fallen into an alien territory of the state involved directly in the armed conflict. It ensures the right to leave the alien territory, the right to security, dignity, and other means of existence. Such people are entitled to claim accommodation in a safe place. For refugees who have fear of persecution if they are sent into their home country, Additional Protocol I prohibit sending an alien refugee back as the principle of non-refoulment.

It is a heartbreaking reality that people have become refugees in their own country. The Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons provides remedies for ensuring the basic human rights to the people who have not fled their countries. The office of the United Nations High commissioner for refugees can provide aid to them but the channels have been blocked and the unwillingness of the administrative bodies of the regions has failed every humane effort made to provide the aid.

The major aim is to reduce statelessness but a crisis like this works as a disaster on all the progress made by the human rights activist and the international bodies that are trying to preserve the basic tenets of humanity and human rights.

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Way Forward

United Nations and the countries around the world at this point can try to send its peacekeeping forces to both the regions, provide basic aid of food, first aid, drinking, and sanitation, etc. United Nations can also start initiatives to provide free legal aid to the victim. Various organizations and NGOs internationally are trying to extend help to these regions.

There is a vast variety of principles and laws enumerated in the International Treaties which can provide relief to the sufferers of the people in a region of conflict. The issue should be tried by the International Criminal Court as they have jurisdiction over such issues and establish the intolerance towards any violations of human rights.

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