Episode 83 – Armenia wages ‘lawfare’ with Melanie O’Brien

Stephanie and Janet above and Melanie below

Armenia’s efforts to join the International Criminal Court moved one step closer this month, after the government formally asked Armenia’s parliament to ratify the Rome Statue.

It is one of a number of judicial moves Armenia is taking, as tensions continue to rise between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh by Armenians, is a landlocked mountainous area in the Caucasus region. It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but its inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians. The region has been a flashpoint between the two countries and the cause of two wars in the past three decades.

Both countries have brought cases to the International Court of Justice against one another for violations with respect to racial discrimination. Then earlier this year, Armenia called on the ICJ to order Azerbaijan to withdraw a blockade of a key road, known as the Lachin corridor. It is the only road where Armenia can provide food, fuel and medicine supplies into the region.

There have also been accusations of genocide of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, with the International Criminal Court’s former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, issuing a report, and saying, “starvation is the invisible genocide weapon.” This prompted a rebuttal from British lawyer Rodney Dixon, hired by Azerbaijan, calling the findings “fundamentally flawed.”

As tensions mount, and with both sides accusing the other of building up troops near their shared border in recent weeks, the rhetoric and ‘lawfare’ practices have also ratcheted up.

To help us cut through the rhetoric we spoke to Dr Melanie O’Brien. She is currently the visiting professor at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is also president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and is an Associate professor at the University of Western Australia Law School.

Melanie is a ‘friend of the pod’ and has spoken to us on several occasions. We last had her on to comment on the plight of the Uighur community in China. She has also talked to us about the genocide case between Gambia and Myanmar at the ICJ and Ukraine’s request for provisional measures against Russia from the ICJ.

For recommendations this week, Melanie pointed to Australia’s war crimes investigations as something she will be highlighting to her current students. This includes the case of Oliver Schulz, a former Australian special forces soldier, charged with a war crime related to his deployment in Afghanistan, as well as the Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation case against three Australian newspapers, which was ultimately dismissed. We also did a podcast on the Brereton report into allegations of Australian war crimes.

Melanie also recommended Hillary Clinton’s 2014 memoir Hard Choices, about her time as the US Secretary of State in the Obama administration and is currently enjoying the TV series, Only Murders in the Building.