Lawsuits before the International Court of Justice may have an impact on heritage protection | Opinion.
A pair of lawsuits recently brought before one of the world’s top courts should be attentively followed by cultural heritage professionals and human rights specialists. These court cases may have an impact on preventing cultural heritage damage and holding people accountable for previous wrongdoings.
Armenia filed a complaint against Azerbaijan with the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ main judicial arm, on Sept. 16, alleging violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), to which both countries are parties. Armenia claimed that Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to a state-sponsored racial discrimination campaign that includes mass executions, torture, and cultural heritage destruction. Armenia claims that this policy resulted in Azerbaijan’s 44-day war in 2020 over the separatist area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is largely populated by Armenians. Azerbaijan filed its own case against Armenia before the ICJ a week later, citing violations of the CERD as a result of discrimination against Azerbaijanis, including ethnic cleansing and the erasing of cultural heritage.
The suits are mirror images of one another. Nonetheless, there remains a huge power imbalance between Armenia, whose tragic defeat in the war jeopardizes the democracy process that began with the peaceful Velvet Revolution in 2018, and oil-rich Azerbaijan, which has one of the world’s most autocratic regimes.
The applications have piqued the interest of legal experts and ICJ observers. Previous CERD cases, such as Georgia v. Russian Federation, have run into jurisdictional issues. Only if negotiations between the parties have failed does the court have jurisdiction.
Armenia attempts to demonstrate that it fulfilled its commitment by revealing failed rounds of contact between the two countries. Furthermore, the ICJ has yet to rule on the merits of any CERD case. The court will have to consider whether the alleged claims are covered by CERD or fall under international humanitarian law.
Do war crimes, such as Azerbaijan’s abuse of Armenian detainees, fall under CERD, as Armenia claims? Is it true that Armenia has not provided Azerbaijan with maps of landmines planted over the years, as Azerbaijan claims, because of racial discrimination? Do the claims of cultural destruction, erasure, and appropriation under the CERD have anything to do with racial discrimination? What exactly is it? This is a condensed version of the information.