Azerbaijan has been criticised for using widely banned cluster munitions in residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The organisation visited the region during October 2020 and found four incidents were Azerbaijan had used the weapons.
“The continued use of cluster munitions – particularly in populated areas – shows flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Stephen Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “Cluster munitions should never be used by anyone under any circumstances, much less in cities, due to the foreseeable and unacceptable harm to civilians.”
Fighting in the region between Azerbaijan and Armenia has intensified in recent weeks following the breaking of two humanitarian ceasefires. Both sides have reported scores of civilian deaths and injuries.
Human Rights Watch is currently investigating whether all parties involved are adhering to international human rights law which requires forces to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objects and civilian objects at all times. All indiscriminate attacks are illegal including those that cannot be directed at a specific and legitimate military target.
They said they’ve made repeated requests to the Azerbaijani government to conduct more thorough on-site investigations but these have not been granted. Instead, they examined remains of munitions and various impact sites and spoke to witnesses and found they have used the banned weapons. Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of using them but HRW was unable to verify this.
Residents of the are told HRW that cluster munitions have been used since 27 September in residential areas.
Cluster munitions have been banned because of their indiscriminate nature and the danger they pose to civilians.
“Cluster munitions typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of small bomblets over an area the size of a football field. Cluster submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines,” HRW wrote in their statement.
HRW has asked Azerbijan to stop using the weapons and to secure and destroy stocks.