The serious problem of landmine contamination in the South Caucasus, and its impact on human rights, and the rights of refugees and IDPs to a safe and dignified return, was the focus of a side event held on Wednesday, 11 October, in Warsaw, on the margins of the Human Dimension Conference organised by the North Macedonian Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The event, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the OSCE, was moderated by Ambassador Elshad Iskanderov, Ambassador-at-large,at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. The panellists were Ramil Azizov, Head of Risk Education, International and Public Relations Department, Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA), Professor Antonio Stango, President of the Italian Federation for Human Rights, and Dr. Dennis Sammut, Director of LINKS-Europe Foundation and General Co-ordinator of the regional campaign “Landmine Free South Caucasus”.
The three panelists spoke about the extent of the problem of landmines in the South Caucasus highlighting its sheer magnitude, which meant that, even with all the best efforts, it will take a long time to resolve. Panellists referred to the negative impact of the landmine problem on the prospects of lasting peace in the region.
Ramil Azizov spoke about the work that ANAMA, the state demining agency of Azerbaijan has been doing to clear landmines, using traditional and new techniques.
Professor Stango said that landmines constituted a direct threat to life and security of entire communities and affected mainly civilians, including women and children. This meant that the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people were negatively impacted.
Both Professor Stango and Dr Sammut referred to the fact that the problem of landmines existed in all three South Caucasus countries, although both also agreed that the problem was more acute in Azerbaijan.
Dr Dennis Sammut said that landmines constituted a very grave obstacle to the right of refugees and IDPs, be they Armenians or Azerbaijanis, to return in safety and dignity. He reiterated the call for a regional approach to addressing the landmine problem in the South Caucasus, and mentioned that in their statement last week in Granada, Spain, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Macron and German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, called on Armenia and Azerbaijan "to co-operate to facilitate demining work".
Dr Sammut said that the issue of demining must be included as a pillar in any future peace agreement between the two countries. Dr Sammut called on the European Union to continue to lead on the issues of demining in the South Caucasus, and to take steps to convene a donors conference in 2024 in order to mobilise both the political will and the necessary resources so that the objective of clearing the South Caucasus of landmine contamination as soon as possible could be achieved. He said that on their part, the three South Caucasus countries should also show their willingness to work with the international community on this issue by taking steps towards adopting the Ottawa Convention.
Members of the state delegations to the 2023 OSCE Human Dimension Conference, civil society members and students and researchers were present for the event.