Azerbaijan and Armenia have violated international humanitarian law in the recent fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, Amnesty International said, as the rights group accused both sides of indiscriminately killing civilians.
A report released on Thursday said there was “clear evidence” that Armenian and Azerbaijani troops repeatedly attacked residential areas far from the front lines during the six-week conflict last year, finding that weapons, including cluster munitions, were used.
Because of the damage they can do, more than 100 countries have banned cluster munitions, but Armenia and Azerbaijan have not.
According to Azerbaijan, at least 94 civilians and more than 2,800 soldiers were killed in the clashes, while according to Armenia at least 60 civilians and 2,400 soldiers lost their lives.
Amnesty put the total civilian death toll at 146, as both countries were asked to investigate the use of “notoriously inaccurate and indiscriminate weapons”.
The Armenian Armed Forces used inaccurate ballistic missiles, unguided multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and artillery, while Azerbaijan’s unguided artillery and MLRS used, the rights group said after investigations on the ground.
“By using these imprecise and deadly weapons near civilian areas, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces violated the laws of war and disregarded human life,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s director of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“Civilians have been killed, families torn apart and countless houses destroyed. There were repeated attacks on civilian residential areas outside the front line, which often did not appear to have any military targets in the vicinity. “
Amnesty said civilian casualties would have “almost certainly” been higher if people had stayed in the affected areas.
In Stepanakert, a central city in Nagorno-Karabakh, ethnic Armenians either fled the fighting by traveling to Armenia or went underground to shelter in bunkers.
When Azerbaijanis were attacked in civilian areas, many left their cities for safer regions.
“The Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities must immediately and impartially investigate the relentless and often ruthless use of heavy explosive weapons by their armed forces in populated civilian areas,” said Struthers.
“As Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders begin to take security precautions, it is crucial that those responsible for these violations are quickly brought to justice and that victims receive redress.”
But, as is so often the case with the two rivals, both sides denied the other’s claims of indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas during the fighting, which ended in November with a Russia-brokered peace agreement.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is under the control of ethnic Armenian armed forces and self-appointed Armenian officials who are supported by Armenia as a war in the mountainous region in 1994 led to a ceasefire.
“Our family has been destroyed”
Amnesty’s researchers documented 18 attacks by Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces, “unlawfully killing civilians”, while visiting dozens of locations in the region.
Eight were fired at towns and villages in Azerbaijan by Armenian forces, killing 72 civilians.
In an attack on September 27, the day the clashes broke out, Armenian forces killed five members of the Gurbanov family and partially destroyed their home in Gashalti, near the Azerbaijani city of Naftalan, according to Amnesty’s report.
“Our family has been destroyed. We started renovating the house before the war, now we can no longer bear to be here, ”Bakhtiar Gurbanov, who had lost his parents, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, told Amnesty.
Relatives of Royal Sahnazarov, his wife Zuleyha Sahnazarova and their daughter Medine Sahnazorava, who were killed when a rocket hit their home, mourn during their funeral in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan on October 17, 2020 [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]The Azerbaijani troops have now been charged with nine attacks on towns and villages in Nagorno-Karabakh and one in Armenia, in which 11 civilians were killed.
In a separate incident on September 27, Amnesty said the Azerbaijani armed forces carried out twelve attacks in four minutes in Martuni, Nagorno-Karabakh, fatally injuring an eight-year-old girl, Victoria Gevorgyan.
“Victoria was our little angel. She’s gone … My little boy still wakes up and says planes are being bombed in the sky, ”Anahit Gevorgyan, Victoria’s mother, told Amnesty.
After hostilities flared up again in September, the Azerbaijani military advanced into the region and surrounding areas with heavy artillery and drones.
Moscow brokered a truce to stop the bloodshed; The ceasefire resulted in territorial gains for Azerbaijan.
Under the agreement, Russia has sent around 2,000 peacekeeping forces to Nagorno-Karabakh for at least five years.
Ethnic Armenian rescuers carry the body of a victim after the shelling in the city of Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 6, 2020 [File: Armenian Unified Infocentre/Handout via Reuters]