As heavy fighting continues to be reported along the line of contact in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region having caused huge human suffering, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to finalize arrangements in order to facilitate the handover of bodies of those killed and to handle the release of detainees.
A fragile humanitarian ceasefire, brokered by Russia, went into effect on Saturday but was almost immediately broken, with both Armenian and Azerbaijan accusing each other of fresh attacks.
Speaking at a news conference today at the United Nations in Geneva, Martin Schüepp, ICRC Eurasia Regional Director said that “it is our hope that the humanitarian ceasefire agreement will be abided by and that it will translate into meaningful relief for those affected. As such, the International Committee of the Red Cross remains ready to facilitate the hand-over of bodies of those killed in action or the release of detainees. The sides, however, need to agree on a format between themselves”.
Since the latest violence erupted in late September, artillery strikes have reportedly hit a number of cities, towns and villages. The disputed territory, home to about 150,000 people, is an ethnic Armenian enclave and is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan by all countries, including Armenia. But the people of Nagorno-Karabakh – an overwhelming majority of whom are ethnic Armenians- want to govern themselves or to join Armenia.
Since the ICRC started working in connection with the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict in 1992, the organization has repeatedly helped authorities with such operations. ”Subsequent to this agreement in Moscow, we have continued to be in contact with the sides proposing our services as a neutral intermediary to facilitate the exchange of bodies or – if agreed by the parties – of course also of prisoners”, said ICRC’s Martin Schüepp.
Currently, the organization has roughly 200 staff throughout the region, half of them on both sides of the line of contact and they are trying to bring in additional staff.
Their focus is on the plight of civilians affected by the fighting, said Martin Schüepp. “We estimate that already hundreds of thousands of people across the region are directly or indirectly affected. Civilians are dying or suffering live changing injuries. Homes, businesses and once busy streets are being reduced to rubble”.
ICRC is currently trying to make an assessment. However, the security situation and the continued fighting has limited the access to all the areas.
”In terms of our humanitarian response, we are working throughout the region to ease the suffering of those caught up in this. We are, for example, distributing emergency cash assistance or hygiene kits to hundreds of families, we are providing emergency medical kits to hospitals and forensic support to authorities, and we are trying to do field assessments wherever we can”, Martin Schüepp said.
Today the World Health Organisation has informed that both countries have seen an increase in Covid-19 cases: Armenia’s numbers have doubled over the past week and the numbers of infected people in Azerbaijan increased by 80 % over last week.