Azerbaijan has launched a historic legal challenge against Armenia, claiming the destruction of its environment and biodiversity during the nearly three decades of Armenia’s occupation. The disputed Nagorno-Karabakh Area.
An international court will look at evidence of widespread environmental devastation during the conflict between the two countries, including deforestation and pollution, and will be required to issue an order. Armenia to pay compensation.
This is the first time that any country has sought interstate arbitration under Berne Convention. If Azerbaijan wins, it will set a precedent for placing economic value on biodiversity and destroying the environment.
War broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, when the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh moved to declare independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Armenian forces won the war and ruled the region for nearly three decades until most of it was captured in a major Azerbaijani offensive in September 2020.
Azerbaijan says that when lands were restored, it found habitats and species damaged, natural resources depleted, and biodiversity destroyed.
The lawsuit is part of a broader diplomatic dispute between the two countries. Azerbaijan occupies a key strategic point between Europe and Asia geopolitically, but also a biological crossroads for plant and animal species.
According to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, mining during the occupation damaged a large part of the forests, which are among the most important areas in which they are abundant. Biodiversity hotspothome to rare, endangered, and endemic species including the Caucasian leopard, brown bear, and gray wolf, as well as spotted eagles and steppe eagles.
The ministry said more than 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of protected forests were damaged. Some of these reserves were established to protect rare and fragile ecosystems, such as the eastern level forest in the Basitchay River Valley.
The ancient trees in the war zone, which are about 2,000 years old, were reportedly cut down. In addition to their important role in regulating the local climate and maintaining biodiversity, these trees have cultural significance.
a Report of the United Nations Environment Program Written last year for Azerbaijan found serious damage to valuable farmland and water management systems. He outlined the evidence that Chardaghli’s coal mining and quarrying had occurred without proper environmental controls, increasing the risk of chemical contamination and caverns.
Landmines remain a problem and kill livestock and wildlife, as well as start fires. Heavy metals and explosive residues contaminate soil and water.
But the UN Environment Program also found that road construction, which began in January 2021 as part of Azerbaijan’s reconstruction programme, also reduced forest cover. The report said biodiversity may have actually benefited during the war, re-establishing itself around abandoned settlements.
Azerbaijan alleges that Armenia has violated its obligations under the Berne Convention to preserve all wild flora and fauna, ensure habitat conservation and restoration, and protect certain species, including migratory ones.
“Instead of preserving biodiversity and the environment during its illegal occupation, Armenia has destroyed it,” said Elnur Mammadov, Deputy Foreign Minister and Azerbaijan’s representative in arbitration.
He said that Azerbaijan has been trying for more than 18 months to resolve the conflict diplomatically. “Unfortunately, Armenia obstructed and ultimately ignored Azerbaijan’s efforts. Therefore, we had no choice but to lift these measures to hold Armenia accountable for the irresponsible damage it caused to the environment.”
The Armenian government could not be reached for comment.
The legal challenge, part of a broader one Trend in biodiversity litigationDo you First known case of the Berne Convention test. She provided a unique example of the challenge of massive destruction of biodiversity by an occupying state affecting healthy ecosystem services for people, said Zaneta Sedilikova, a lawyer at London-based Clyde & Co.
“Although it is based on the fact of illegal occupation and therefore difficult to translate into a different context, it does point to countries increasing appreciation of the irreplaceable value of biodiversity-rich, balanced and healthy ecosystems,” she said.
Concern about environmental destruction in wartime and understanding of its complex implications is growing. In December, the United Nations General Assembly agreed 27 legal principles To protect the environment during armed conflict and occupation, including with regard to corporate conduct and the use of natural resources.
Both countries now have three months to appoint arbitrators who will consider evidence of any damage and decide whether and how much Armenia should pay damages. As a signatory to the Berne Convention, Armenia is legally obligated to respect the provision.
“If Azerbaijan succeeds in its case, it will be the first time that an arbitral tribunal has allocated compensation for environmental damage, and it is very likely that it will assess the economic value of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services in a given region, and for a particular country,” Sedilekova said.
Such a precedent could have a profound impact on how state and non-state actors perceive the cost of biodiversity loss, potentially accelerating biodiversity protection, conservation, and restoration.
In addition to seeking compensation, Azerbaijan wants the court to order Armenia to halt ongoing activities that it says continue to harm the regime. Analysis of the Okhchuchay River by Azerbaijan in 2021 showed extremely high concentrations of heavy metals, including cadmium, lead, nickel, iron, molybdenum and zinc in the water and sediment. Azerbaijan says several protected species of fish and amphibians are threatened and claims the problem is caused by wastewater from copper and molybdenum mines upstream in Armenia, as well as local effluent.
The UN Environment Program report noted that pollution of the Okhchuchay River has long been a concern in Armenia. She said that Armenian environmental organizations and civil society organizations “regularly express concern about pollution of the river with heavy metals and other pollutants, and Research by Armenian scholars revealed the deterioration of the situation.
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