Azerbaijan sues Armenia for wartime environmental damage

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Azerbaijan has launched a landmark ineligible situation against Armenia for allegedly destroying its situation and biodiversity during astir 3 decades of concern of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

An planetary tribunal volition see grounds of wide biology demolition during the struggle betwixt the 2 nations, including deforestation and pollution, and volition beryllium asked to bid Armenia to wage reparations.

It is the archetypal clip immoderate state has sought inter-state arbitration nether the Bern convention. If Azerbaijan wins, it volition acceptable a precedent for putting an economical worth connected biodiversity and biology destruction.

War erupted betwixt Armenia and Azerbaijan successful the aboriginal 1990s, erstwhile the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave moved to state independency arsenic the Soviet Union collapsed. Armenian forces won the warfare and governed the territory for astir 3 decades until astir of it was captured successful a large Azeri violative successful September 2020.

Azerbaijan says that erstwhile the territories were retaken it recovered habitats and taxon had been harmed, earthy resources depleted, and biodiversity destroyed.

The suit is portion of a wider diplomatic struggle betwixt the 2 states. Azerbaijan occupies a cardinal strategical constituent betwixt Europe and Asia successful geopolitical terms, but is besides a biologic crossroads for works and carnal species.

According to Azerbaijan’s ecology and earthy resources ministry, mining during the concern damaged overmuch of the forests, which are a biodiversity hotspot, location to rare, endangered and endemic taxon including the Caucasian leopard, brownish bear, grey wolf, arsenic good a the greater spotted and steppe eagles.

The ministry said much than 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of protected forests were damaged. Some of these reserves were established to support uncommon and fragile ecosystems, specified arsenic an oriental level wood successful the Basitchay River valley.

Ancient trees successful the warfare zone, immoderate 2,000 years old, were reportedly chopped down. As good arsenic having an important relation successful regulating microclimates and conserving biodiversity, these trees are culturally important.

A UN Environment Programme report written past twelvemonth for Azerbaijan recovered superior harm to invaluable farmland and water-management systems. It outlined grounds that ember mining astatine Chardaghli and quarrying took spot without due biology controls, raising the hazard of chemic contamination and cave-ins.

Landmines stay a occupation and person killed livestock and wildlife, arsenic good arsenic sparking fires. Heavy metals and residues from explosives contaminate ungraded and water.

But UNEP besides recovered that road-building begun successful January 2021 arsenic portion of Azerbaijan’s reconstruction programme besides reduced wood cover. And the study said biodiversity whitethorn person really benefited during the war, re-establishing itself astir abandoned settlements.

A presumption    of Azerbaijan’s Jidir Plain.
A presumption of Azerbaijan’s Jidir Plain, adjacent the metropolis of Shusha successful Nagorno-Karabakh. The country is location to uncommon and endemic species. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Azerbaijan claims Armenia violated its obligations nether the Bern normal to support each chaotic flora and fauna, to guarantee habitats are conserved and restored, and to support circumstantial species, including migratory ones.

“Instead of preserving biodiversity and the situation during its amerciable occupation, Armenia destroyed them,” said Elnur Mammadov, a lawman overseas curate and Azerbaijan’s typical successful the arbitration.

He said Azerbaijan had tried for much than 18 months to resoluteness the quality diplomatically. “Regrettably, Armenia has stonewalled and yet ignored Azerbaijan’s efforts. We person truthful been near with nary prime but to bring these proceedings to clasp Armenia to relationship for its irresponsible harm to the environment.”

The Armenian authorities could not beryllium contacted for comment.

The ineligible challenge, portion of a wider trend successful biodiversity litigation, is the first known lawsuit to trial the Bern convention. Zaneta Sedilekova, a lawyer astatine the London-based steadfast Clyde & Co, said it provided a unsocial illustration of a situation to immense biodiversity demolition by an occupying authorities that affects steadfast ecosystem services to people.

“Although premised connected the information of amerciable occupation, and frankincense hard to construe into a antithetic context, it points towards an expanding appreciation by states of the irreplaceable worth of biodiversity-rich, balanced and steadfast ecosystems,” she said.

Concern astir biology demolition successful wartime and knowing of its analyzable effects is growing. In December, the UN wide assembly agreed 27 ineligible principles for protecting the situation during equipped struggle and occupation, including connected firm behaviour and the usage of earthy resources.

Both countries present person 3 months to name arbitrators who volition see grounds of immoderate harm and determine whether and however overmuch Armenia indispensable wage successful reparations. As a signatory to the Bern convention, Armenia is legally bound to respect the ruling.

“If Azerbaijan succeeds successful its case, this volition beryllium the archetypal clip that an arbitral tribunal allocates damages for biology demolition and, precise likely, assesses the economical worth of biodiversity nonaccomplishment and diminution successful ecosystem services connected a peculiar area, and to a peculiar nation,” said Sedilekova.

“Such a precedent could person a profound interaction connected however authorities and non-state actors comprehend the outgo of biodiversity nonaccomplishment and, possibly, accelerate protection, conservation and restoration of biodiversity.”

As good arsenic seeking compensation, Azerbaijan wants the tribunal to bid Armenia to halt ongoing activities that it says proceed to harm the enivronment. Analysis of the Okhchuchay River by Azerbaijan successful 2021 showed highly precocious concentrations of dense metals, including cadmium, lead, nickel, iron, molybdenum and zinc successful h2o and sediment. Azerbaijan says respective protected food and amphibian taxon are threatened and claims the occupation is caused by wastewater from copper and molybdenum mines upstream successful Armenia, arsenic good arsenic home effluent.

The UNEP study noted that contamination of the Okhchuchay had agelong been a interest successful Armenia. It said Armenian biology and civilian nine organisations had regularly “expressed alarm implicit the river’s contamination with dense metals and different pollutants, and research by Armenian scientists has revealed worsening conditions”.

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