As few as 50 to 1,000 ethnic Armenians may currently remain in Nagorno-Karabakh after over 100,000 people fled to Armenia in the last two weeks, according to sources who spoke with the UN. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that people arriving in Armenia are traumatized, exhausted, hungry and in urgent need of psychosocial support and emergency assistance. The mass exodus followed a 24-hour military escalation on 19 September by Azerbaijani forces. The military operation, which was preceded by a nine-month-long blockade of the Lachin corridor, ended on 20 September with a ceasefire.
The hostilities and the lack of formal guarantees for the security of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, combined with the humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade, left populations fearing the potential consequences of remaining in the enclave. On 1 October, at the invitation of Azerbaijan, the UN sent a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, it’s first official visit into the area in approximately 30 years, to assess the situation and identify humanitarian needs. The team, which included representatives from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Refugee Agency, World Health Organization and others, was “struck by the sudden manner in which the local population fled their homes and the suffering that the experience must have caused them.” The mission noted that it was difficult to determine whether the local population intended to return, but that “what was clear is that there is a need to rebuild trust and confidence, and this will require time and effort from all sides.”
On 28 September the de facto authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a decree to fully dissolve all its ministries and other agencies and organizations by 1 January 2024. Since the ceasefire, Azerbaijan has arbitrarily arrested notable public figures and former de facto leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh, including former presidents Arayik Harutyunyan, Bako Sahakyan and Arkadi Ghukasyan, ex-parliamentary speaker David Ishkhanyan, and former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan.
Meanwhile, Armenia has pursued several international legal actions to respond to the ongoing crisis. On 29 September Armenia requested that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) order Azerbaijan to uphold the international human rights obligations codified under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which it is a state party. On 3 October Armenia’s parliament also voted to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
As Azerbaijan assumes control over Nagorno-Karabakh, it must fully comply with all its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including to respect and protect the rights of ethnic minorities within its territory and refrain from destroying their unique cultural heritage. Azerbaijan must cease the arbitrary detention of prominent figures, which effectively denies them due process rights.
Violence and atrocities continue unabated in Sudan as the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) approaches its sixth month. Rocket shells, bombardments and heavy artillery continue to hit densely populated urban areas, destroying large parts of cities and killing and injuring civilians, particularly in Khartoum and Omdurman.
Indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure also continue in Darfur, where the RSF and Arab allied militia continue to perpetrate abuses against Massalit populations and those from other non-Arab communities. On 13 September the UN announced that its Joint Human Rights Office received credible reports about the existence of at least 13 mass graves in El Geneina, West Darfur. Increasing evidence also suggests that the RSF is currently expanding territorial control by attacking dozens of villages in Darfur, North and South Kordofan and other regions.
The number of people that have been internally displaced or have sought refuge in neighboring states since mid-April has surpassed 5.5 million. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, at least 7,500 people have been killed, though the actual figures are estimated to be much higher.
The rapidly deteriorating conditions in Sudan warrant a robust and strong response by the international community given the gravity, scale, and severity of abuses, which likely amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and potential genocide. During its current session, the UN Human Rights Council must establish and immediately operationalize a mechanism to investigate atrocities being committed across Sudan, identify root causes and perpetrators, collect and preserve evidence and provide recommendations to address widespread impunity. Such a mechanism would support, rather than jeopardize, ongoing peace negotiations, and help the international community increase its pressure on the warring parties to immediately end the fighting and protect vulnerable populations from atrocity crimes.
In addition to investigations, efforts must be made to cease enabling perpetrators to commit atrocity crimes, including halting the provision of military supplies to warring parties. For example, recent reports by both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times revealed the United Arab Emirates have regularly provided the RSF with drones, ammunition, assault rifles and other small arms. All UN member states must uphold the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council (UNSC) in Darfur and refrain from providing military supplies to the warring parties. UNSC members should publicly identify and call out those states violating the existing arms embargo and consider expanding the embargo to the rest of Sudan.
The international community must heed calls by Sudanese civil society to ensure that ending impunity is central to all efforts to address the situation in Sudan. Cycles of violence and atrocities can only be addressed in the short and the long term if perpetrators are held accountable.
On 26 September three UN Special Rapporteurs – including the mandate holders on minority issues, cultural rights and education – issued a statement regarding the forcible separation of young children from their families and communities by the Chinese government in the Uyghur region, also known as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR). While an estimated 880,000, predominantly ethnic Uyghur, children in XUAR had already been placed in state-run orphanages or full-time boarding schools by the end of 2019, the Special Rapporteurs warned of an “exponential increase” in policies allowing for forcible separation of young children. Children in controlled boarding institutions have limited access to their families or communities, which the Special Rapporteurs noted “undermine their ties to their cultural, religious and linguistic identities” and “leading to their forced assimilation.”
The Special Rapporteurs, together with a large number of other UN experts, have previously issued numerous joint warnings regarding evidence of Chinese authorities systematically persecuting the ethnic Uyghur community, as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other majority-Muslim ethnic groups in the Uyghur region. The International Service for Human Rights has documented that between 2018 and 2022 alone, UN Special Procedures issued a total of 83 communications and 28 press releases concerning China, warning that “they have yet to see any signs of political will to address the concerns raised.” China has responded by publicly accusing the Special Rapporteurs of spreading “Xinjiang-related lies and misinformation” and engaging in systematic reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the wider UN system.
Over 1 million people – mainly Uyghurs – have been arbitrarily detained in “re-education” or “de-extremification” facilities since 2017, with allegations of widespread rape, sexual abuse and torture. Many of those placed in state-run orphanages and boarding schools are children of Uyghur parents who are in such facilities or have been forced into exile. The Chinese government is also conducting a coercive campaign to reduce birth rates among Uyghurs and other majority-Muslim populations while mass surveillance has turned XUAR into a de-facto police state. In a landmark report released on 31 August 2022, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights determined that the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other majority-Muslim ethnic groups may constitute crimes against humanity, and that conditions remain in place for serious human rights violations to continue.
Despite the government’s efforts to undermine international scrutiny, China – a current member of the HRC – is running for re-election to the Council. Savita Pawnday, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “While China is facing no competition for an HRC seat in their region, UN member states should send a strong signal that the election of a government perpetrating possible crimes against humanity and genocide severely undermines the HRC’s credibility and institutional integrity. We call on all governments to leave China’s ballot blank.”