By Michael Rubin,
Speaking at the United Nations last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke out about famine, quoting President Biden’s declaration, “If parents cannot feed their children, nothing else matters.” It was unfortunate, but symptomatic of his cynicism, that Blinken ignored the famine underway in Nagorno-Karabakh caused exclusively by Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade.
Rather than stand on principle, Biden and Blinken fund Azerbaijan as it perpetrates ethnic cleansing. Such funding is illegal. Azerbaijan neither meets the terms of a waiver on Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act to allow American aid due to President Ilham Aliyev’s open calls for a military solution, nor does the Humanitarian Aid Corridors Act allow the United States to provide assistance to any country that interferes with the delivery of American assistance to any other territory or entity. Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor does just that. Unlike with Section 907, there is no waiver.
Aliyev argues Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory, and that its residents must subordinate to his rule, one of the world’s most authoritarian dictatorships. For too long, the State Department has deferred to Aliyev’s claim of sovereignty. US recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh upon Azerbaijan’s renewed independence was never cut-and-dry; rather, recognition of sovereignty over the region depended upon Azerbaijan’s agreement to peaceful resolution of the dispute and balancing principles of territorial integrity and self-determination. Even if Blinken bullies Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan into renouncing Armenian claims over the region, Pashinyan has neither the right nor the ability to forfeit residents’ legal rights to self-determination.
Not everyone ignores the crisis. On August 7, 2023, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, issued an opinion labeling the deliberate starvation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 Christians to be an act of genocide.
Aliyev believes that he is absolute sovereign over the territory; this exposes his sense of impunity. If Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians are Azerbaijani citizens as he insists, then his deliberate starvation of the community suggests parallels at play between Aliyev and Omar al-Bashir, the former dictator of Sudan, who targeted for genocide the inhabitants of Darfur. That they were Sudanese citizens did not mean open season for slaughter. Sudan, like Azerbaijan, is not party to the Rome Statute, and thus does not place itself under the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. Still, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to extend ICC jurisdiction over Sudan for crimes in Darfur enabling Bashir’s indictment.
It is unlikely the UN Security Council treat Azerbaijan the same way. While the United States, France, and Russia might hold Aliyev to account, China is a wildcard and the United Kingdom would veto due to BP’s multibillion dollar partnership with Aliyev. Even if London stood on principle, Azerbaijan would buy the votes of non-permanent Security Council members to hamper any resolution.
There is another path to an Aliyev indictment, however, as Azerbaijan has ratified the Convention Against Genocide.
For too long, the State Department has believed balance the key to successful diplomacy. This is wrong, as Aliyev only stakes out more extreme positions figuring Blinken will simply meet him in the middle. The latest example are arguments Azerbaijan voiced yesterday that Armenia is to blame for starvation in Artsakh. This is akin to a judge privileging a child who murders his parents because he is an orphan.
It is time instead for USAID to send trucks flying the American flag to the Lachin corridor under the observation of US diplomats stationed in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan impedes diplomats’ movement, it is time to send its ambassador home. If it refuses to allow the flow of relief supplies or, worse, threatens to kill Western observers as Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Brussels recently did, then it is time for sanctions. There is no shortage of options. Biden can put an end to the Section 907 waiver, enforce of the Humanitarian Assistance Corridors Act, designate under the Magnitsky Act, and even support Aliyev’s indictment under the Genocide Convention.
Africans are right to argue that near-exclusive indictment of Africans by international courts and tribunals is unseemly if not racist. Bashir is still a fugitive, but Liberia’s Charles Taylor could use a roommate. Aliyev could be just that man.
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