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Volume 816: debated on Monday 15 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) reports of violations of the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement by the government of Azerbaijan, and (2) the number of Armenian military and civilian personnel who have yet to be released by the government of Azerbaijan.

My Lords, the Minister for Europe and Americas has repeatedly highlighted the need for both countries to avoid provocative actions. She has also raised the long-standing issues of prisoners of war, detainees and the missing or deceased in calls with both Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Mirzoyan. We urge both Governments to engage in substantive negotiations to settle all matters relating to the conflict.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but the impunity enjoyed by Azerbaijan has encouraged continuing violations of the ceasefire agreement by Azerbaijan. As Azeri forces continue to advance into Armenian territories, a few weeks ago I visited a village, Davit Bek, in Syunik province, and witnessed the suffering of the Armenian people there. Azerbaijan also refuses to release Armenian prisoners, subjecting many to torture and killing. What will Her Majesty’s Government do to require Azerbaijan to stop violations of the ceasefire agreement and of human rights?

My Lords, the UK has engaged very actively both during and after the conflict. The Minister for Europe and Americas, Wendy Morton, speaks regularly with her counterparts in both countries. She continuously urges de-escalation and a return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, and she has condemned the alleged war crimes, including the deliberate shelling of civilian areas, videos purportedly showing beheadings of soldiers, and alleged deliberate use of white phosphorus against civilians. The allegations come from both sides in this conflict.

My Lords, in June, I visited the border inclusion area of Syunik province, at an earlier stage than the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. In Khoznavar, the incursion had cut off the nearby village from its main water source, and access to grazing land had been denied, threatening the survival of this poverty-stricken village. Following my letters of 7 July to the Foreign Secretary and of 5 November to the Minister for Europe and Americas, what further steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to challenge those illegal incursions, to ensure the integrity of Armenia’s borders and to press for the withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops according to the terms of the November 2020 ceasefire?

My Lords, the UK notes the ceasefire agreement reached in November last year. Both countries had to make difficult decisions to secure stability and peace, and it is important that remaining issues relating to the conflict are resolved through negotiation. In particular, the OSCE Minsk Group is the obvious and key forum for this, facilitated by France, Russia and the US. The UK is not a formal member of the OSCE but we continue to support its efforts to negotiate a permanent and sustainable settlement.

My Lords, for years, one of the major causes of tension and violence has been the lack of a clear and mutually acceptable demarcation of the international border. Although the border agencies of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are now in contact, given our close connections in the region, have we considered assisting or promoting this vital process, which is essentially technical, on the basis of clear international principles?

My Lords, as I said, the UK supports the OSCE Minsk Group process and, alongside that, the basic principles. Last updated in 2009, these include a return of the occupied territories and the acceptance of a free expression of will on the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

My Lords, I just returned at the weekend from a visit to Karabakh, where I saw thousands—yes, thousands—of homes which had been demolished or vandalised by the occupying troops over the last 30 years. First, can the Government now confirm that they recognise that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan? Secondly, were all the Armenian prisoners of war captured before the ceasefire released by Azerbaijan? Thirdly and finally, have either the Russian peace observers, whom I saw, or the Minsk Group reported any breach of the ceasefire by Azerbaijan, and will Her Majesty’s Government continue to encourage UK investment in Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, now that it has been liberated?

My Lords, I will not repeat the last answer, relating to recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but in relation to the ongoing conflict, the UK Government continue to raise at every opportunity the critical importance of settling all matters related to the conflict, in particular last year’s conflict, with the Armenian and Azerbaijani Governments. That includes, for example, the return of all prisoners and the remains of the deceased, which has been a particular focus of the Minister for Europe and Americas, Wendy Morton, who has raised this repeatedly with her counterparts.

My Lords, on the first anniversary of the ceasefire, the US State Department statement, as well as listing all of the humanitarian issues that are supported by allegations on both sides of this—the Minister has referred to almost all of them—expressly called for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Do the Government support that call and, if so, have they discussed it with the United States, and how do they intend to advance this really important initiative?

My Lords, the UK Government are of course aware of allegations that war crimes were committed by both sides during last year’s conflict. There is credible evidence for that. My colleague Wendy Morton, Minister for Europe and Americas, has raised this issue with both Governments, and she has urged that those allegations be thoroughly investigated. Where we can, we support the trilateral OSCE on a regular basis.

My Lords, Azerbaijan has handed over, bona fides, Armenian POWs who had been detained during the course of hostilities, but the cessation of hostilities provides huge opportunities to reopen transportation and communication routes between Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Zangezur corridor. Once fully operational, this could provide inter-and transregional trade and economic connections, bringing significant benefits for Armenia’s own economic development. Will HMG consider encouraging the Armenian Government to seize this opportunity to ensure that the transport corridor is reopened?

The noble Lord makes an important point. Of course, we continuously urge both the Armenian Government and the Azerbaijani Government to honour in full the agreement reached last year. That is why our support for the OSCE Minsk Group is also important: the opportunities for both countries in a lasting settlement are enormous, as he rightly says.

My Lords, what representations do the UK Government intend to make to the Government of Armenia to encourage the latter to fulfil its obligations under the 10 November bilateral ceasefire agreement—specifically to fully withdraw its troops from the Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh region, where the Russian peacekeepers are currently stationed, and to reverse its lack of co-operation with Azerbaijan in helping with the opening of communication and transportation routes?

The UK Government have not made a full assessment of the impacts of the Russian peacekeeping efforts, but this is an area that my colleagues in the other House keep under regular review.

My Lords, will the Minister make urgent representation to the Government of Azerbaijan to allow UNESCO to investigate all Armenian cultural and religious sites to ensure their physical preservation, and to guarantee the rights of Armenian clergy and religious communities to continue to run and live in them?

The Government strongly support the noble Baroness’s appeal for full access and full transparency, in relation both to cultural heritage and the allegations that have been made, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which does not currently have full access to all prisoners of war. That is something that we are pushing hard for.

My Lords, six months ago, I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the fact that Russia had taken significant control over the administration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Last week, a Russian news agency suggested that the Armenian President wanted the Russian army to remain for good. What assessment has his department made of this move, and what impact will it have on security in the region?

As I said, the UK has not yet made a full assessment of the deployment of the Russian peacekeepers, but deployment of peacekeepers clearly has to have the support of both parties to the conflict, or the aims become almost impossible to achieve.