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Human Rights Sanctions:EU Must Act Quickly To Signal That The Era Of Impunity Is Over for Azerbaijan

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Alexis Krikorian


On the eve of International Human Rights Day, the day Erdogan chose to praise one of the architects of the Armenian genocide in the midst of widespread indifference, the European Council adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a "global human rights sanctions regime".

The aim, we are told, is for the European Union to be able to sanction the individuals, entities and state or non-state bodies responsible for, involved in or associated with "serious human rights violations" anywhere in the world.

What are the restrictive measures?

o a travel ban into the EU applying to individuals;

o a freezing of funds, applying both to individuals and entities;

o a prohibition for EU persons and entities to make funds available, directly or indirectly, to those listed.

Which acts are concerned?

o genocide ;

o crimes against humanity;

o torture, slavery, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest or detention;

o other violations or abuses where those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern as regards the objectives of the Common foreign and security policy (CFSP) (Art. 21 TEU): trafficking in human beings, human rights violations committed by migrant smugglers, sexual and gender-based violence, violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, violations or abuses of freedom of opinion and expression, violations or abuses of freedom of religion or belief.

Who establishes the list of sanctions?

The European Council, on a proposal from a member state or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (J. Borrell), establishes, reviews and amends the sanctions list.

What is important to remember? Several things.

First of all, the use of the adjective "serious" in the expression "serious violations of human rights" gives the European Council a non-negligible margin of interpretation.

Secondly, this specific sanction regime (relating to human rights), which comes is in addition to already existing regimes ("countries" such as Belarus or "chemical weapons", "cyber-attacks" and "terrorism"), will require like the others (contrary to the initial proposals, however) the unanimity of member states, which will of course be a brake on decision-making. We see this with the sanctions against Turkey, which have been on the agenda of the European Council for months without ever being adopted because of the opposition of several countries, including Germany, Hungary and Italy. This required unanimity should therefore be abandoned.

Finally, in its current form, the regime does not cover corruption. For a country like Azerbaijan, which has a slush fund with considerable means to influence European decision-makers - as proven by the OCCRP, it seems obvious that this regime should be amended as soon as possible to include corruption as a reason for targeted sanctions, given the great interdependence between human rights violations and corruption.

State-sponsored Armenophobia in Azerbaijan and Turkey

It is well known that the most serious human rights violations occur during war and conflict. We see this with the Second Karabakh War, where Armenian civilians have been tortured or executed extra-judicially in the midst of widespread indifference. The day before yesterday, the Azeri Telegram channel "Kolorit_18" posted a monstrous video of an elderly Armenian civilian whose throat was slit by what appeared to be an Azeri soldier, although the civilian begged for his life in the language of the executioner. The civilian is then decapitated. The Twitter page WAR RAGE, after analyzing this video, came to the conclusion that one of the monsters on the video would be Kamil Zeynali, a famous Azeri blogger with more than 1 million subscribers on Instagram. The number of "likes" accompanying the video is also frightening and highlights the fact that Armenophobia, elevated to the status of state ideology in Azerbaijan, has wreaked havoc on minds in the country.

Generally speaking, Human Rights Watch has just denounced it in a report, Armenian prisoners of war are being mistreated, subjected to physical violence and humiliation, in actions that have been filmed and widely disseminated on social media since October already.

The Azeri government has formally promised to prosecute all of the crimes seen in the numerous videos posted on social media. However, no one is fooled. No one should be fooled: Given the large number of videos that have been posted and the fact that Azeri soldiers feel comfortable enough to show such horrors, it is obvious that these crimes are at least tolerated by the authorities, if not more. Armenophobia is elevated to the rank of state policy in Azerbaijan and this from an early age, in schools, etc. There are plenty of examples of calls for the murder of Armenians. One such example was that of Nurlan Ibrahimov, the communications director of the Qarabag soccer club, who had called for "killing all Armenians, young and old, without distinction", while justifying the Armenian genocide of 1915. He has since been banned for life by UEFA.

Erdogan praises one architect of the Armenian genocide and Aliev claims half of Armenia

Moreover, during their victory parade in Baku on 10 December, Erdogan praised Enver Pasha, one of the architects of the Armenian genocide and responsible for the massacre of 10,000 Armenians in Baku in 1918, and Aliev declared that more than half of the territory of the Republic of Armenia was in fact Azeri territory! On International Human Rights Day and without arousing the slightest international condemnation, by state and non-state actors alike.

Include Azerbaijani individuals and entities on the new sanctions list to signal that the era of impunity is over

In an article published on Eurasianet, Ryan O'Farrell, an independent military analyst who has been closely following the open sources on the conflict on Twitter, is quoted as saying that the crimes shown in these videos are "encouraged" by the military command, adding the following: "Between the number of videos, their frequency and the number of participants, it’s impossible to not assume that the Azerbaijani state has given its tacit approval to these war crimes. They are not ‘bad apples’. It is systematic".

France, which calls itself "a friend of Armenia" and J. Borrell (the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), who had asked "what to do (from 11:00:23)" to the MEPs who had urged him to act a few days after the beginning of the Turkish-Azeri offensive, could, for example, if it’s confirmed that it was indeed him, propose to add to this new sanctions list Zeynali and the Azeri Ministry of Defence for, for example, "crimes against humanity", "torture", or "extrajudicial executions".

Similarly, France, any other EU member state and J. Borrell could propose to add to the list the highest officials of the Azeri state for the repeated and systematic violations of the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, in a country that is ranked 168th out of 180 in the world press freedom index of Reporters without Borders.

Since any decision is ultimately political, these nominations for listing would finally send a clear message to the Azeri authorities that the era of impunity for the most serious human rights violations (genocide, crimes against humanity, etc.) is about to come to an end.

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