Address by Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, at the High-Level Segment entitled “Advancing Mediterranean security and cooperation in an age of large movements of migrants and refugees” held in the framework of 2017 OSCE Mediterranean Conference
(Palermo, 24 October 2017)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank our Italian friends, particularly Minister Alfano, for hosting 2017 OSCE Mediterranean Conference.
The topic of this year’s conference is high on the agenda of the international community as one of the most urgent and complicated issues. We share the view that this phenomenon is truly a multi-dimensional, cross-cutting challenge that will affect security not only of Mediterranean but also throughout the OSCE for the foreseeable future. As stated by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, “refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants are not the problem; the problem lies in conflict, persecution and hopeless poverty”. Indeed, while the number of people fleeing their homes has reached the unprecedented level of 65.6 million persons, we see no solutions in sight for the too many unresolved conflicts that continue to produce displacement and human sufferings.
While the plight of refugees and migrants makes the headlines, the international community must also keep in mind the millions of internally displaced men, women and children made extremely vulnerable by conflicts and who still find themselves in protracted situations in different corners of the globe.
UNHCR reported the total number of IDPs has reached 41 million all over the world, the highest figure on record. Azerbaijan fully supports all efforts to raise the visibility to the sufferings of IDPs. The references to IDPs in the 2030 Agenda, the goal set by the Agenda for Humanity to reduce internal displacement by at least 50 per cent by 2030 as well as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which notes the need for reflection on effective strategies to ensure adequate protection and assistance for IDPs and to prevent and reduce such displacement, certainly, are right steps, but clearly not sufficient. The grave situation of millions of IDPs requires strong attention, the rethinking of approaches to prevention, addressing the root causes as well as concerted action at all levels. We believe that the OSCE should be also used as a platform for elaborating a comprehensive OSCE response addressing the protection of the rights of internally displaced persons.
Azerbaijan’s sensitivities to IDP’s cause are understandable. Displacement in my country is a consequence of the ongoing military aggression and occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other surrounding regions of Azerbaijan by Armenia in blatant violation of international law and the UN Security Council relevant resolutions. By impudently violating humanitarian law, Armenia carried out ethnic cleansing policy against almost one million Azerbaijani civilians in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and in Armenia itself. It left Azerbaijan with one of the largest internally displaced population per capita in the world. Currently, the number of IDPs and refugees exceeds 1.2 million as a result of the increase of the displaced population. The only solution to their displacement is the return to their homes in security and dignity and it is the first priority of my Government.
Until the ultimate solution to the IDPs’ displacement is accomplished, my Government continues to improve living conditions of IDPs. During last twenty years about 6 billion USD was invested, which has resulted in significant decrease of poverty and unemployment among IDPs. Till now, more than 250,000 IDPs were provided with new houses and flats. However, the above-mentioned measures are not viewed as a permanent local integration, since the voluntary return to places of origin in security and dignity is regarded by IDPs themselves as the only preferable option.
In that regard, the Government of Azerbaijan has developed a comprehensive repatriation program called the “Great Return” to enable the IDPs to exercise their right to return to their homes voluntarily, in security and dignity and to access their properties, as soon as Armenia withdraws its troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Another element of concern for Azerbaijan is that in searching effective ways out of the migration crisis currently faced by the international community, it is of utmost importance to pay careful attention to the attempts of some political leaders to misuse suffering migrants in their own malicious interests. Policy pursued by Armenia aimed at resettling Armenians from Syria on the occupied lands of Azerbaijan in a grave breach of international humanitarian law, in particular the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocols is a vivid example to these attempts of misuse of human suffering for illegal purposes.
These policies and practices implemented by Armenia in the occupied territories, including attempts to change the economic, cultural and demographic character at the occupied territories, demonstrate its intention to prevent the expelled Azerbaijani population from returning to their homes and to further continue the annexation of Azerbaijani territories. It is worth mentioning that the European Court of Human Rights in its judgment on the case of Chiragov and others v. Armenia affirmed the right of displaced persons to return to their homes and called for respecting international humanitarian law and human rights law provisions relating to property rights issues. The court stressed the ongoing negotiations within the OSCE Minsk Group do not provide a legal justification for the interference with the rights of the Azerbaijani IDPs and recalled Armenia’s obligations towards Azerbaijanis who had to flee during the conflict. Consequently, the court’s ruling highlights the unlawfulness of any purported transfer of property in the occupied territories. Strong international and public condemnation of the illegal activities in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan can seriously undermine intentions of Armenia’s leadership to consolidate existing status-quo and enrich perspectives for the peaceful resolution of the conflict.