Queen's Speech Response by Baroness Cox: House of Lords

Queen's Speech Response Baroness Cox

Baroness Cox (CB) [V]

My Lords, Her Majesty’s gracious Speech affirmed the United Kingdom’s commitment to uphold human rights and to alleviate human suffering across the world. I wish to raise two issues.

First, I record my appreciation of the Government’s response to the military coup in Myanmar. Last Saturday, Dr Sasa, spokesperson for the newly formed national unity Government, contacted us urgently to report a new large-scale attack by the military against civilians in Mindat, in Chin State. Homes were destroyed by tanks and helicopters. Anyone who tried to help the wounded was arrested and screams of torture-inflicted pain could be heard from captured civilians. Many of those arrested were used as human shields.

I have visited Mindat. The civilians are a peace-loving community with very limited resources to defend themselves. Given that their plight is expected to worsen in the coming days, I hope that the Minister agrees that measures by Her Majesty’s Government will include urgent help with protection and provision of cross-border aid, engaging directly with local leaders and NGOs, because aid delivered through Yangon does not reach vulnerable people.

I turn briefly to Armenia, and the historically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where civilians recently suffered large-scale military offensives by Azerbaijan, aided by Turkey, with thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of civilians driven from their homes. I visited Karabakh during that war and witnessed the perpetration of war crimes by Azerbaijan, including the deliberate bombing of civilian targets such as the maternity hospital in Stepanakert. However, despite a ceasefire in November, there are at least four urgent concerns, which Her Majesty’s Government, unlike the Governments of France, the United States and Canada, have failed adequately to address.

The first is the refusal by Azerbaijan to release Armenian prisoners of war and civilian detainees who are subject to killings—including beheadings—torture and indefinite imprisonment. During a meeting with victims’ families in November, I was told that Azeri perpetrators sometimes send pictures of the torture and slaughter of Armenian soldiers from their phones to their families. I have sat with some of these families, dreading what might come through on their phones.

Secondly, there are serious concerns over the fate of hundreds of Armenian Christian monuments and cultural heritage sites, now under Azerbaijan’s control. There has already been footage of the jubilant destruction of a church by Azeri soldiers. Between 1997 and 2006, an estimated 28,000 Christian monuments were destroyed by Azerbaijan in the previously Armenian land of Nakhchivan.

Thirdly, anti-Armenian rhetoric, or Armenophobia, by the Azeri president, other officials, and across social media, has escalated, naming Armenians as pigs, dogs and brainless. This hatred has generated the creation of the Spoils of War Park in Baku; it displays mocking, humiliating mannequins of Armenian soldiers, which children are encouraged to hit, and a corridor lined with the helmets of dead Armenian soldiers.

Fourthly, recently and very disturbingly, Azerbaijani forces have advanced into new positions along the Armenia–Azerbaijan border, away from the conflict zone, and occupied the sovereign territory of Armenia itself. This included, on 12 May, armed units advancing three to four kilometres into the Armenian province of Syunik.

The atrocities perpetrated by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh during the recent war have been so serious that Genocide Watch has defined them as genocide. They have largely been unrecognised by the UK, with no appropriate response. That is very dangerous because, as has been well said, every genocide which is not condemned is an encouragement to the perpetrator to continue genocidal policies with impunity.

The International Association of Genocide Scholars raised similar urgent concerns in October, warning that

“genocide of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and perhaps even Armenia, is a very real possibility.”

Yet despite these warnings Her Majesty’s Government have chosen not to intervene to protect civilians. They continue to refuse to hold Turkey and Azerbaijan to account for their actions, despite clear evidence of past, recent and ongoing atrocities, choosing instead to define the crisis as a “problem on both sides”, in which Armenia is portrayed as equally guilty as Azerbaijan and Turkey. While war often involves crimes against humanity, and Armenia may have some culpability, there is absolutely no equivalence with the atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by Azerbaijan.

As the Armenian Foreign Minister said to us on a recent visit to Armenia: “Autocratic states have assessed how far they can get away with things. They have concluded that the ‘democratic world’ is somewhere else. They have assessed the democratic world and they will therefore continue this policy, as they have learnt from this.” There is therefore an urgent need to fulfil the commitment in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech to uphold human rights and to alleviate human suffering for the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

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