Former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo described Azerbaijan’s 260+ day Artsakh blockade as a “an ongoing genocide. It’s happening now,” in powerful remarks delivered at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing, titled “Nagorno Karabakh: Update.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo called out U.S. President Joe Biden’s complicity in Azerbaijan’s ongoing genocide against Artsakh’s 120,000 indigenous Christian Armenians, in powerful remarks delivered before a congressional hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC), reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“President Biden or Secretary Blinken can officially tell Mr. Aliyev to remove tomorrow, unconditionally, the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, or we consider you responsible for genocide. […] And, of course, that will trigger a lot of consequences,” stated Ocampo, speaking in a packed Rayburn House Office Building hearing room.
Ocampo pushed back against arguments that Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations may be hampered by the proper characterization of genocide to describe Azerbaijan’s over 260-day blockade of Artsakh. “The negotiation is between a genocider and his victims. You cannot ask for a negotiation between Hitler and the people in Auschwitz. It’s not a negotiation. You have to stop Auschwitz and then discuss negotiation. And that, I think, is the secret here,” stated Ocampo. The former ICC prosecutor went on to note that “knowing that President Aliyev is using genocide and trying to deny the genocide, the U.S. assistance to deny the genocide could be considered complicity.”
ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian echoed Ocampo, underscoring, “Today’s hearing put President Biden on public notice that he is – according to the spirit and the letter of the Genocide Convention – complicit in Azerbaijan’s genocide against the 120,000 indigenous Christian Armenians of Artsakh – citizens of an at-risk democracy blockaded by an oil-rich dictatorship.”
Rep. Chris Smith: “This horrible crime, this crime of genocide, was planned, tested and imposed by the government of Azerbaijan.”
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) – a longtime champion of human rights around the world and leading voice in the decades-long effort to secure U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide – was outspoken in his characterization of Azerbaijan’s genocide in Artsakh.
“There are 120,000 ethnic Armenians who have been sealed off from food and medicine and are being starved to death by the government of Azerbaijan. […] This horrible crime, this crime of genocide, was planned, tested and imposed by the government of Azerbaijan; that is to say, by President Aliyev who rules Azerbaijan with an iron fist as a dictator,” stated Chairman Smith in his opening remarks of the hearing.
He went to slam Biden administration officials for not responding to repeated invitations to participate in today’s hearing. “This hearing has two empty chairs. Two. Those of the U.S. Department of State and USAID. I requested that they both provide a witness for this hearing. Despite repeated requests by phone and email, neither responded. Not even a response. Since 1995, I have chaired hundreds of hearings with State Department or USAID witnesses. This is a unique case of absolute nonresponse,” stated Chairman Smith.
“It speaks volumes about the bankruptcy of the Biden-Harris administration’s genocide-aligned policies on Artsakh that they refused Chairman Smith’s repeated requests to send even a single U.S. State Department or USAID witness to today’s hearing,” noted the ANCA’s Hamparian.
Chairman Smith highlighted the Biden administration’s failure to adequately respond to Azerbaijan’s escalating aggression and blockade against Artsakh. “Requests in bland bureaucratic language do not count, not when people are being subjected to genocide,” stated Rep. Smith. “Today, the State Department issued a readout of Secretary Blinken’s September 1 call with President Aliyev, where [they expressed] ‘concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, reiterated our call to reopen, underscored the need for a dialogue and compromise.’ This is completely inadequate, and I believe it is insulting. One side is committing genocide against the other, and the State Department expresses concern urging the victim to dialogue and to compromise.”
David Phillips: “By being silent, by not acting, the Biden administration is making a statement that it values Azeri oil and gas more than it does the lives of Armenians in Artsakh”
David L. Phillips, the director of Columbia University’s Artsakh Atrocities Project and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, offered powerful testimony citing atrocities committed by Azerbaijani government officials against Armenians in the Republics of Artsakh and Armenia and calling for concrete U.S. sanctions against both Azerbaijan and its top leadership.
“Azerbaijan does not have a diversified economy. It relies on oil and gas resources. The levels of corruption by the Aliyev family are well documented. Freezing accounts and financial resources of officials and corrupt leadership responsible would be more effective in Azerbaijan than it would be elsewhere,” argued Phillips. “If the situation is not dramatically reversed soon, the U.S. and its allies should give the Armenians the means to defend themselves and exercise of the duty to prevent genocide, lest history repeat itself.”
Phillips went on to criticize the international community for not imposing sanctions against Azerbaijan sooner. “The international community failed to sanction individuals who committed crimes after the wars in 2016 and 2020. Its message of failure sent a communication to the government of Azerbaijan that it can act with impunity and escape repercussions for its crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide,” stated Phillips. “This signals Azerbaijan, as well as other regimes around the world, that they can escape consequences for violating international humanitarian law and committing crimes against humanity.”
The September 6 emergency hearing on Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) followed the June 22 hearing hosted by TLHRC co-chairs Chris Smith (R-NJ) and James McGovern (D-MA), which included remarks by Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chairs Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) also submitted a written statement for the record. Titled “Safeguarding the people of Nagorno Karabakh,” the hearing included testimony by former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Michael Rubin and Columbia University’s Phillips.
The ANCA streamed the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing live on its social media channels. The complete video is available on the Commission’s website.
The ANCA has launched a national call-in campaign asking Senators to place a hold on all of President Biden’s State Department nominees until he takes decisive action to stop Azerbaijan’s genocide against Artsakh. To learn more and take action, visit www.anca.org/hold.