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Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Bachelet Urges Protection For Civilians Amid Escalation In Hostilities

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday expressed her alarm at the suffering of civilians as hostilities continue to widen along the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone – also impacting other populated areas outside the immediate area of fighting – and called for an urgent ceasefire due to the impact on civilians.

Since the latest violence erupted on 27 September, artillery strikes have reportedly hit a number of cities, towns and villages. Information from different sources, which the UN Human Rights Office has not been able to independently verify, suggests that as of 8 October some 53 civilians had been killed, including children, as a result of the hostilities. A large number of buildings, including houses, schools, and other civilian facilities are reported to have been destroyed – the vast majority were located in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“It is deeply worrying that in recent days we have seen populated areas reportedly targeted and shelled with heavy weaponry in and around the conflict area,” said Bachelet.

“I remind all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, abiding by the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution and avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas,” she stressed.

“I also remind all States, particularly those with influence over parties to the conflict, that they are required by international law to do everything within their power to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.”

The High Commissioner also highlighted deeply troubling reports that cluster munitions had been used in the conflict area.

“Cluster munitions scatter small, often bright or colourful bomblets over wide areas, many of which fail to explode immediately but can then kill and maim for years afterwards,” Bachelet said. “The use of such munitions should stop immediately. I also urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to join the more than 100 States that have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions which comprehensively bans their use.”

The High Commissioner also called on all parties to this conflict, which has persisted for more than 30 years, to refrain from using inflammatory, pejorative or discriminatory language to stoke divisions.

“Hate speech leads nowhere but to a mutually dehumanizing and destructive hatred that, as we tragically see now, periodically erupts into conflict and loss of life. What is needed from everyone, including political leaders, is constructive dialogue aimed at protecting human rights and fostering a sustainable political solution to the conflict,” Bachelet said.

The High Commissioner also voiced concern at how the outbreak of renewed hostilities was posing a direct health threat amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with all parties to the conflict struggling to contain the spread of the virus.

“As the violence continues, some civilians have reportedly moved to basements or other shelters that risk of offering no possibility of maintaining physical distance to limit the spread of the COVID-19, and limiting people’s access to clean water and sanitation,” the High Commissioner said.

“Access to healthcare must be ensured, and this includes providing psychosocial support for victims of this conflict, including those harmed as a result of the latest hostilities and those affected over the more than three decades of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Bachelet stressed.

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