THE HAGUE — The United Nations’ top court on Wednesday ordered Azerbaijan to restore unimpeded traffic through the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
Armenia asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to take this and other “provisional measures” two weeks after Azerbaijani government-backed protesters blocked the road on December 12. Lawyers representing Azerbaijan’s government denied the closure of the Lachin corridor during court hearings in January.
The ICJ concluded that “connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia via the Lachin Corridor has been disrupted.”
“The information available to the Court indicates that the disruption on the Lachin Corridor has impeded the transfer of persons of Armenian national or ethnic origin hospitalized in Nagorno-Karabakh to medical facilities in Armenia for urgent medical care,” it said. “The evidence also indicates that there have been hindrances to the importation into Nagorno-Karabakh of essential goods, causing shortages of food, medicine and other life-saving medical supplies.”
The court based in The Hague pointed out that a Russian-brokered agreement that stopped the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh commits Azerbaijan to guaranteeing safe passage through the region’s sole land link with the outside world. It said Baku should therefore “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”
At the same time, the panel of 15 ICJ judges rejected Armenia’s request for a separate injunction against the disruption of Armenian electricity and gas supplies to Karabakh carried out through Azerbaijani territory.
“The Court considers that Armenia has not placed before it sufficient evidence that Azerbaijan is disrupting the supply of natural gas and other utilities to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh,” it said.
The ICJ also threw out Azerbaijan’s request to make Armenia stop laying land mines in the Lachin corridor. Yerevan has repeatedly denied the Azerbaijani allegations, saying that they are a pretext for blocking the vital road.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have sought injunctions against each other as part of their mutual lawsuits brought before the UN court in 2021. The legal dispute could take years to resolve. Also, analysts believe that the ICJ judges have no real means of enforcing their interim orders.
Yeghishe Kirakosian, a lawyer representing the Armenian government in international tribunals, said Yerevan will keep ICJ posted about Baku’s compliance with its latest order.
Full Text of The International Court of Justice Decision Published on February 22
The Court reminded that by the December 7, 2021 decision, the following provisional measures were applied,
The Republic of Azerbaijan shall, in accordance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
(a) Protect from violence and bodily harm all persons captured in relation to the 2020 Conflict who remain in detention, and ensure their security and equality before the law;
(b) Take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination, including by its officials and public institutions, targeted at persons of Armenian national or ethnic origin;
(c) Take all necessary measures to prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage, including but not limited to churches and other places of worship, monuments, landmarks, cemeteries and artefacts.
The Court further recalls that by a letter dated 16 September 2022, Armenia, referring to Article 76 of the Rules of Court, requested the modification of the Court’s Order of 7 December 2021 (the “second Request”).
By an Order dated 12 October 2022, the Court found that “the circumstances, as they [then] present[ed] themselves to the Court, [were] not such as to require the exercise of its power to modify the measures indicated in the Order of 7 December 2021”. In addition, the Court reaffirmed the provisional measures indicated in its Order of 7 December 2021, in particular the requirement that both Parties refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.
Finally, the Court recalls that, on 28 December 2022, Armenia, referring to Article 41 of the Statute and Article 73 of the Rules of Court, filed a new Request for the indication of provisional measures (the “third Request”). In that Request, Armenia states that, on 12 December 2022, Azerbaijan “orchestrated a blockade of the only road connecting the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh with the outside world” and asks the Court to indicate the following two provisional measures: “Azerbaijan shall cease its orchestration and support of the alleged ‘protests’ blocking uninterrupted free movement along the Lachin Corridor in both directions [; and] Azerbaijan shall ensure uninterrupted free movement of all persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.” By a letter dated 26 January 2023, the Agent of Armenia communicated to the Court the text of a further provisional measure sought by his Government, as follows: “Azerbaijan shall immediately fully restore and refrain from disrupting or impeding the provision of natural gas and other public utilities to Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The judge noted that the court notices that since December 12, 2022, the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through the Lachin Corridor has been disrupted. The Court notes that a number of consequences have arisen as a result of this situation, and that those who bear the consequences continue to suffer these effects to this day. According to the information, the import of vital goods to Nagorno-Karabakh was also hindered, as a result of which there is a shortage of food, medicine and other life-saving supplies. The Court considers that the damage can be considered irreparable when the relevant persons find themselves in life- and health-threatening circumstances.
The Court recalled that at the open session held on January 30, 2023, the representative of Azerbaijan confirmed that his government has committed and remains committed to taking all the steps within its power to guarantee the free movement of people, vehicles and cargo through the Lachin Corridor, including continuously working with the ICRC.
The court takes note of that statement. However, this does not eliminate the imminent risk of irreparable damage due to the disruption of movement through the Lachin Corridor. In light of the above circumstances, the Court concludes that the alleged impairment of the rights recognized by the Court as enforceable may cause irreparable damage to the rights and there is urgency. That is, there is a real or imminent and immediate risk that irreparable harm will occur before the Court makes a final decision on the case. Therefore, the Court concludes that the conditions for applying provisional measures are present and grounded, so it is necessary for the Court to apply some provisional measures before the final decision in order to protect the rights mentioned by the Court requested by Armenia. The Court mentions that it has the right under the statute to apply such measures that are completely or partially different from the requested measures.
“The Court notes that the Statement by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation of 9 November 2020 provides, inter alia, that the Lachin Corridor, “which will provide a connection between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia . . . shall remain under the control of the Russian Federation peacemaking forces”. The Statement further states that “Azerbaijan shall guarantee the security of persons, vehicles and cargo moving along the Lachin Corridor in both directions”.
In the present case, having considered the terms of the provisional measures requested by Armenia and the circumstances of the case, the Court finds that the measures to be indicated need not be identical to those requested. The Court concludes that Azerbaijan shall, pending the final decision in the case and in accordance with its obligations under the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions”, reads the decision of the Court.