Despite the extensive evolution of the international relations, political theorists continue to refer to it as jungle where everybody is against everybody, in order to highlight its distinctive peculiarities. Whereas today the goal of existing mechanisms founded on legal norms and principles is to ensure peaceful coexistence and mitigation of threats to peace and security.
This requires common vision and methods. Otherwise, there would be more exceptions, questioning the existence of the general rules. This would be the pathway to jungle. Therefore, any given conflict or contentious situation must be assessed based on legal framework regardless of political positions or views. Only that could warrant lasting peace.
The OSCE Minsk Group, established in 1992, is mandated with the resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict. More than 20 years later, this body still struggles to report any progress. The worst part is that the Minsk Group has done nothing practical for identifying the substance of the conflict and shaping common position underpinned by the principles of the international law. Co-chairs have tried to isolate the peace process from other international organizations and relegated the norms of the international law. This in turn has decelerated the resolution of the problem.
Co-chairs need to acknowledge that as Armenia enjoys impunity for the act of aggression it perpetrated, it would never agree to any compromises for the sake of peace. Compromised peace is based on mutual concessions enabling the parties to yield the benefits of the concord and constitutes legally sound resolution that implies granting high autonomy to the Nagorno Karabakh within the framework of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Adoption of documents by the international and regional organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that condemn the facts of aggression and occupation contravening the international law are very important steps. They oblige the Armenian leadership to be more responsible, give up the aggression and seek compromised peace. In this regard, the Co-chairs must be guided by the documents adopted by the international organizations, including the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights on “Chiragov and Others v. Armenia” case in order to evaluate the situation objectively and produce own position on the essence of the conflict and Armenia’s aggression.
It is worth mentioning that back in 1993, Mario Rafaelli – one of the Co-chairs of the Minsk Group – recognized the Armenian deception and condemned the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory in the report he had produced. Today the course of the events requires the Co-chairs to be unwavering. Regrettably, instead of welcoming the contribution by international and regional organization serving the common cause they issue a statement urging PACE to refrain from discussing the documents pertaining to Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The very statement defies logic. Apparently, deliberately or not, the Co-chairs demonstrate indifference to principles that firmly reject the policy of aggression and occupation, thus undermining the foundation of a mechanism that politicians of the world so tirelessly worked to build in 20th century.
Was not the fight against aggression and territorial occupation a key value the countries of the world rallied around? Had not the international community denounce the situations resulted by the use of military force? These are important questions for the Co-chairs to address.
On the other hand, they need to exercise extra caution while interpreting the principles related to this conflict. How can the same principles and norms be misinterpreted? This is obvious when it comes to definition of territorial integrity and right to self-determination. The hierarchy of norms and the legal pyramid rests upon the application of commonality of the norms. For example, if once the territorial claims were perfectly legitimate, the territorial integrity became a fundamental principle of the international law overriding it and constituting a major pre-condition for sovereign development of the nations and peaceful coexistence.
Its unanimous recognition by the international community is beyond doubt. Otherwise, there would be no point of safeguarding of international peace and security. The UN Security Council resolutions constantly underscore the territorial integrity of the countries and emphasize the degree of its significance. No international organization is willing to turn a blind eye on this issue because the consequences could be dire. It could be detrimental for the international law that took so many years to establish and shake the pillars of the Westphalia system that is at the heart of the present world order.
The right to self-determination is characterized by more subjective factors and often highlighted in line with narrow national interests of certain countries. First used as a political notion, it was eventually incorporated into legal framework to ensure internal peace and stability. Its peculiarity is that it is applied to the People whereas the international law does not define the term – People. Despite certain countries exploiting it and suggesting subjective interpretations, the international jurisprudence and doctrine identifies concrete limits.
First, it is common knowledge that the term People implies a nation and as such, self-determination is possible within the framework of the existing state. Second, certain groups, victims of colonialism, were recognized as People and their right to free themselves of colonial domination through peaceful or military means was recognized as well.
The ruling of the International Court of Justice on Namibia and Western Sahara reaffirmed that. For instance, Canada’s Supreme Court avoids clearly defining the term People. Yet it states that the right to self-determination only generates a right in situations of former colonies; where People is oppressed; or where a certain group is denied meaningful access to government.
Third, minorities living within national borders are not People. They have the right to exercise the right to self-determination but not to the detriment of the territorial integrity of a state. There are specific provisions in the international documents regarding the minority rights.The sole objective of those documents is to foster favorable conditions for minorities to continue developing their cultural identity.
In light of the above mentioned the Minsk Group Co-chairs must acknowledge their mission for the humankind and increase efforts for resolution of the conflict based on the norms and principles of the international law.