Facts That Dissprove the Human Rights Watch Claims That Azerbaijan Used Cluster Munitions

"150512-BAKU-games0102" by ALDE Group is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

By | Rachel Brooks

October 24, 2020

Featured image, the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe, or ALDE, organization hosted a human rights violations review against Azerbaijan in 2015, the year that Baku hosted the European games. This highlights the polarization against Azerbaijan in the human rights community that has been a common trend of the last decade. 

This is an updating story.  

Human Rights Watch made a claim this week that supported the Armenian claim that the Azerbaijani defense forces had been using Israeli cluster bombs to attack civilians. HRW pointed to sites on the map and made claims that they had made a direct on the ground assessment. Other sources refuted HRW’s claim, stating that HRW has not been present on the ground in Azerbaijan since before the Nagorno-Karabakh 2020 conflict

Defense and military analyst and consultant Benjamin Minick stated that, while Human Rights Watch has been known to do good work in the past, the claims made at this interval are “grandstanding.” 

“There has been an extreme limitation of groups such as HRW on the ground during this conflict. The international community deserves to know that this is for the safety of journalists and the safety of researchers. It’s not an opportunity for Azerbaijan to falsify claims, or anything else because they are wanting to protect us,” said Minick. 

 “I’m not going to defame or debase Human Rights Watch’s previous work, because they have done some good work. However, this is grandstanding. Nobody is on the ground there.”

Minick also noted that the claims made by Human Rights Watch and Armenia were oversimplified. 

“There was no way that they were able to do any research on the ground or collaborate any information on the ground that would back up such a baseless claim. It’s as simple as pulling up a map of Azerbaijan and dropping some pins from a graphical nature and saying that ‘cluster munitions were used at these sites.’.” 

He noted that the nature of munitions to look similar and be of similar make could cause outside analysis to confuse specific weapons with others. 

“I don’t believe they actually know what cluster munitions are, or what they do, to be real honest with you. If they were to use cluster munitions, it would be extremely dangerous. They are, in fact, frowned upon in use during war at all, let alone where population might be, noncombatants and things of that nature, because of their destructive nature. 

The reality of it is, there are high explosive warheads that can look like cluster munitions, but there were no cluster munitions used here. The claims that these were “made in Israel” are also baseless. There are many countries that make these types of weapons, and they all basically do the same thing. I find it hard to believe that there is debris laying around that has “Made in Israel” stamped on it, I mean realistically.” 

He then went on to explain what precisely a cluster munition is. He also elaborated on what a similar warhead function is. 

“A cluster munition is designed to have multiple explosions released from a single point. Sometimes it’s delivered in the form of a rocket, typically it’s going to be delivered in the form of a bomb that disperses clusters of explosives over a certain area at a certain altitude. We’re not seeing that from satellite images.”

Minick stated that, while his organization has informants on the ground, even his organization is not privy to the kind of reports from ground reports. His organization is only privy to satellite images. 

“The damage that we have seen has been consistent with SCUD missiles or high explosive artillery shells that are fired either by mortar units or tanks or other armored vehicles. I’m not showing any that would be deployed by aircraft.” 

Minick noted that the blast patterns are not consistent with the claims made in the Human Rights Watch report. 

“The reality is that there are some single fire cluster munitions, but they don’t leave the types of blast patterns and such that we’re seeing on the ground from pictures.”

Minick then went on to note that the claims being circulated regarding cluster munitions have been based on propagandists doctoring previously existing images to suit the narrative. 

This statement was confirmed by Armenian news outlets’ uniform leap on the Human Rights Watch claim. Massis Post, for example, used the report as a proof to garner support for their side of the conflict.  

Massis Post also reported that the Armenian position on these munitions received support from Amnesty International. 

Human Rights Watch has been frequently vocal against Israeli cluster munitions over the last two decades, with some of their reports dating back to 2006 condemning their use. This opposition to cluster munitions is a motivation behind their eagerness to sound outcry against the Armenian claims that Azerbaijan has used these munitions on civilians.

Human Rights Watch has published multiple reports on the claims of alleged Israeli cluster bomb use. First, Human Rights Watch called for the halt of use and destruction of stock of such weapons. 

The report was conducted by the Executive Director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch Stephen Goose. Mr. Goose has been an advocate for the ban on cluster munitions. In his report condemning Azerbaijan, he attests that Azerbaijan used weapons that were purchased and stockpiled from Israel in the 2008-2009 era. This era was contemporary with Goose’s advocacy against the wholesale use of cluster munitions, potentially indicating that his motive in releasing a report that has not been cross-examined by ground fact is bigger than the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and is intended for a wider reach of activism. 

The agenda that Human Rights Watch has concerning Israel has even earned it a near classification as an anti-Semitic organization, citing Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights lawyer. 

“Although in the past, Human Rights Watch was lauded for its documentation of Azerbaijan’s refugee cases, in the instant case, it is failing its duty in objectivity and essentially ignoring the investigation of Armenian atrocities in Ganja and other Azerbaijan’s cities. Far from inspiring the Azerbaijani government to welcome it to explore the situation on the ground, these one-sided fabrications are sending a signal that the organization cannot be trusted to carry out any investigations objectively, and will produce the opposite result,” said Tsukerman. 

“In recent years, HRW, among other major human rights NGO, has faced accusations of being politicized and taking funding from private donors, including state actors, to attack specific countries. Furthermore, its selective attacks on Israel have caused the US State Department to consider designating it as an anti-Semtitic organization, a dubious distinction that raises an additional question about its agenda in jumping on an accusation of Israeli cluster bombs being used.”

This motion to potentially classify HRW as antiSemitic for its aggressive stance against the cluster bomb accusations collaborates with the analysis that HRW’s issue with Azerbaijan is more that of Azerbaijan’s alleged supplier of said munitions, and that HRW is guilty of context deletion when analyzing the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict issue of 2020 era. 

“All in all, the situation is to HRW’s discredit, particularly its willingness to falsely claim a presence on the ground, when all the evidence points to it not being anywhere the theater of war nor having access to the evidence sufficient to establish its claim. Those truly concerned about human rights and the rule of law should avoid falling for speculative and sensationalist claims, tainted by the specter of disinformation,” further stated Tsukerman. 

Crisis Report alleged several damages and casualties is Stepanakert and Shushi from these alleged weapons. However, the exact number of civilian casualties was not specified. The ballistics report photographs do not support the allegations either. 

Massis Post likewise stated that Amnesty International echoed the report from Human Rights Watch through the Crisis Response department. This report was overseen by Denis Krivosheev, the Head of Research and Deputy Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office for Amnesty International. Krivosheev has a history with the organization as a previous researcher for the North Caucasus and Russia region. 

The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, with their polarized report of the status of conflict on-site in the Nagorno-Karabakh, have been loud, but they echo into a vacuum. World NGOs have responded to the devastation in Ganja with an echoing silence. 

The silence that echoes through world charity and intervention organizations can trace back to a personal bias on the staff of these institutions. The bias may go beyond the conflict in the region itself. As Azerbaijan and Armenia sit in the crossroads of the Caucasus, they also sit in the crossroads of conflicts and geopolitics. The bias in the western press has used the occasion of the alleged cluster bombing to stress biases against Israeli weapons contracting as well as Israeli foreign policy. 

Biases of western NGOs against Azerbaijan directed at “bigger picture” agendas

The biases of the western NGOs appear, in some instances, to sidestep the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict altogether. Instead, the NGOs, with their “bigger picture” focus, tend to look directly over the heads of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They look toward potential proxy conflicts. The silence, in some regards, toward the human rights violations of the Azerbaijani people as Armenia continues to aggress the territory, is an oversight focused on the constraint of the belief of pan-Turkism.

 Armenian news outlets, such as Massis Post, continue to circulate the hysteria of these fears over the region with headlines such as “Avoiding World War III in the Caucasus” which was published in August 2020. The report alleged that the major oil pipelines which link Azerbaijan to Georgia connect the region to the west. Massis Post alleged that because the pipelines transport oil to Turkey and Turkey is a NATO ally nation, that this is a link to the West for Azerbaijan and Georgia. The pipelines go directly into Turkey. Massis Post stated that the pipelines were at risk because, as of July 2020, the firing line in the Nagorno-Karabakh is only 30 miles away from the Azerbaijani oil pipelines. 

Massis Post also stated that, for security reasons, Armenia had aligned itself with the nearest major Christian nation Russia. Armenia continues to stress through its publications that Armenia is the geopolitical pivot point “for whoever wishes to dominate the Caucasus”.

This promise of ease of access and demand for support from Armenia has gripped the world’s attention and leaves the world leery of its looming ally in the Russian power. The cycle of fear in the region over the strategic foothold of Azerbaijan causes the silence of many of the international community as they determine how best to play the long game in the region. Azerbaijan’s existence as a separate entity with equal rights to its counterpart nations is lost in the fearmongering of its enemies propaganda. Azerbaijan as a separate republic under the duress of many geopolitical burdens is blurred out of the narrative as an effective gray bubble in a much broader spectrum issue, as far as the world is concerned. 

Armenian political influence over western lobby shapes NGO involvement 

The influencing power of the Armenian political lobby over the western press also has its hand in shaping the interests of charitable communities. The Suffolk Journal stated on October 21 that Bostonian Armenian expatriates gathered in protest of alleged attacks by Azerbaijan on what the paper called the “de jure Azerbaijani” enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and alleged, incorrectly, was the former “Republic of Artsakh.” The Nagorno-Karabakh was at one time occupied by an oblast of post-soviet self-proclaimed independent nationals, but the region has always been part of the sovereign and heritage territory of Azerbaijan. The article continued to make many false statements regarding the Armenian connection to the Nagorno-Karabakh, while stating the events that transpired in the Armenian Heritage Park of Boston, Massachusetts. 

The City of Boston has personal connections to the Human Rights Watch and various other humanitarian initiatives through its rich university culture. It is through the official opinions and heavy connection to Armenian lobbies of the Western academic community, and the in turn relationship of Western academia to the NGOs, that is likewise responsible for the universal polarization, distortion of fact, and silence over the injustices against Azerbaijan by the Armenian national movement. The connections of western academia to the Armenian lobby are supported by the Suffolk Journal post, which quotes an Armenian student of Suffolk University. The student was the source of the misinformed statements regarding the history of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Liberal Democratic human rights defense tempered with Armenian-leaning bias

Armenian political lobby influence against Azerbaijan in the west does not stop with misinformation, but it also bleeds over into exclusion from world  human rights discussions forums.

European institutions called upon each other to “stand up for the civil rights” of Azerbaijan. One such instance was conducted by the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party 2 convening in Vilnius on June 4th, 2016, which frequently convenes to hold Azerbaijan accountable to European liberal human rights standards. However, the ALDE, and the liberal-leaning political arm in general, has a particular bias toward Armenia. The ALDE has been documented as meeting with the ANC in Armenia directly. The Armenian Party Congress is a member of the ALDE.

From a press release in 2018, the ALDE Party Vice President Henrik Bach Mortensen hosted a celebration of the movement that brought the end of the Soviet Union and independence for Armenia. ALDE, at this time, expressed strong support of the ANC. The ANC, as was described by ALDE, was originally formed as the pan-Armenian National Movement, which is the movement behind the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Greater Armenia mythos.

“It was a special pleasure for me to represent ALDE here today because our relations with ANC have been very strong and have gone back a very long time. The views and values we share: the importance of the parliament, the independence of the judicial system, the existence of checks and balances on authority and protection of fundamental human rights, are the cornerstones of a liberalism democracy.” The ALDE press release quoted Mortensen.

In addition to the ANC, the ALDE also has the Bright Armenia party as a member of its organization.

The ALDE’s leaning towards Armenia polarizes its reviews of Azerbaijani human rights, and this bias reflects upon the assessments of the regional issues of the conflict. This bias likewise reflects upon organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which are documented as having cooperated with ALDE for certain reports. As Human Rights Watch research is shaped by using parties such as ALDE as a reference source, the biases will reflect upon each other, creating a complex scenario of hypercritical and slanted review of the conflict status in the Nagorno-Karabakh.