Azerbaijan/Armenia: Your questions answered about ICRC’s work

This page addresses frequently asked questions about our response to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in the region. We understand the importance of accurate information, especially during challenging times. Through these answers to common questions, this page aims to debunk false and misleading information about us and give you a better understanding of our humanitarian work.
Article 12 September 2023 Armenia Azerbaijan

Question: Why and how does the ICRC operate in Armenia and Azerbaijan?

The ICRC launched its activities across the region in 1992 in response to the humanitarian impact of the conflict in the region. As a neutral, impartial and independent organization, the ICRC provides protection and humanitarian assistance to the people affected by armed conflicts and other situations of violence. The ICRC has the mandate to offer its neutral intermediary services to the sides to bring humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities across the Lachin corridor, at the former line of contact or living along the International Border between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The ICRC's work in the region includes providing support to families of missing persons, conflict-related detainees and their families, separated family members, and displaced and vulnerable communities. The ICRC's work also includes conducting risk awareness and safer behavior sessions with communities to increase resilience to mine risks and weapon contamination.

It is important to note that the ICRC does not take sides or make judgments about political considerations. Instead, we focus on helping people who are suffering, regardless of their nationality, background or beliefs. This approach is essential because it allows us to build trust with decision makers, which in turn helps us to provide aid and protection more effectively.

Our neutrality is not always well understood, especially in situations where there are strong emotions involved. However, our neutrality is critical to our ability to operate in any context. This approach allowed us to facilitate 84 medical evacuations of more than 800 patients across the Lachin corridor. In other contexts it has helped to facilitate the release of prisoners in Yemen and of kidnapped girls in Nigeria, or to organize the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo, Syria, or from Mariupol, Ukraine. This approach saves lives.

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Question: One question asked recently by an Azerbaijani media news outlet: "Is there truth to the media reports stating ICRC office in Khankendi is affiliated to your office in Armenia"?

This is untrue. There is no subordination relation between these two ICRC structures.

All ICRC structures in the region represent the ICRC as an institution and coordinate their humanitarian operations together to achieve better results in helping people in need. The ICRC's work responds to strictly humanitarian concerns, and our presence and operations in the region do not indicate any ICRC position regarding political considerations or prejudice the sovereignty of the States. It is also for this strictly humanitarian objective that some logistical and administrative arrangements are handled through confidential dialogues with the sides and can therefore not be disclosed publicly. However, all ICRC activities are systematically conducted with the agreement of the decision makers.

Question: Why don't you speak more publicly and what does the confidential bilateral dialogue mean?

At the ICRC we use social media and public communication every day to tell the stories of the people we help, to explain our work and to talk about the issues that are important for us. We also communicated publicly on the partial suspension of our activities across the Lachin corridor. But when it comes to conducting our operations on the ground, confidentiality remains absolutely critical. It is the key that opens doors for us that would otherwise remain shut. Without confidentiality we would not being able to access people in need and reach places where we need to work. Confidentiality means that we can talk with the decision makers and build relationships that are essential to finding solutions to do our work. Confidentiality is a tool not the aim.

By adopting this approach, we avoid the risk of politicizing issues through public debate. As a purely humanitarian organization, the ICRC does not wish to engage in debates, which are by nature very politicized. What matters the most for the ICRC is to be able to reach and help the affected communities.

Question: How does the ICRC operate in the region, including across the Lachin corridor?

As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC is not involved in any political negotiation. The parties to a conflict benefit from the ICRC's neutral intermediary role, which enables the delivery of life-saving aid, visits to detainees on both sides, retrieval of mortal remains for proper burial, and the facilitation of the return of detainees once released. In Lachin corridor, this role begins when an agreement has been concluded by the decision-makers to conduct a humanitarian activity, such as the medical evacuation of sick patients or the delivery of humanitarian aid. The ICRC's aid convoys are a lifeline for the population in the area and we need the sides to reach a humanitarian consensus. Under international humanitarian law, sides must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need. This essential work, which has allowed medical supplies, food, baby formula and other essentials to reach health care facilities and families, must be allowed to continue.

Our aim is to continue delivering humanitarian assistance and are ready to use all routes secured and agreed by the sides, including the Lachin corridor and Aghdam road.

Question: Does the ICRC visit detainees?

The ICRC has been visiting hundreds of conflict-related detainees in the region since the 1990s. We facilitated repatriation for 365 detainees between 1992 and 1999 and delivered around 30,000 Red Cross Messages to reconnect families separated by the conflict, be they civilian or military. Decades later, our representatives continue to visit persons detained in relation with the conflict and facilitate contact with their families. However, as per its confidentiality policy, the ICRC does not disclose publicly any details on detention visits.

It is also important to highlight that under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions and as part of our work the ICRC must be allowed to see all prisoners of war and civilian internees, have access to all places they're held and be allowed to repeat visits, as often as needed. All states are legally obligated to make this happen as all states have signed the Geneva Conventions.

Question: Does the ICRC support States' obligation to clarify the fate of missing people?

Under international humanitarian law, States are obligated to clarify the fate of those who have gone missing.

The ICRC supports the State Commissions on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons of Azerbaijan and Armenia to clarify the fate of these people and end the pain of not knowing for thousands of relatives.

Based exclusively on information received from the families, the ICRC has established and maintains its own list of missing persons in relation with the conflict. This provides a non-political, common basis for the sides to clarify the fate of missing persons.

The ICRC also works to strengthen the forensic capacity of local stakeholders and develop the legal frameworks supporting the families of the missing. These strictly humanitarian objectives are to provide answers to the families of missing persons.

In its capacity of neutral intermediary, the ICRC also facilitates the transmission of information on missing persons between the sides.

Question: Are the reports of transporting unauthorized goods along the Lachin corridor true?

The ICRC is aware of concerns raised about the transport of unauthorized goods across the Lachin corridor and does not support any such activity. We regret that without our knowledge four hired drivers tried to transport some commercial goods in their hired vehicles while displaying the ICRC roundel in July, 2023. These individuals were not ICRC staff members, and their service contracts were immediately terminated by the ICRC.

Question: Are the rumors that the ICRC conducts espionage activities true?

The ICRC does not conduct espionage activities or collect military information and strongly condemns the spread of such rumors. It would go against all legal norms, as well as our principles, to engage in these activities. We have the exclusively humanitarian mandate to provide protection and assistance to people affected by conflict, and to promote the respect of international humanitarian law. Our unique objective is the delivery of neutral and impartial humanitarian aid in the region.

In fact, the ICRC's code of conduct emphasizes the duty of discretion and maintaining confidentiality when it comes to the information we acquire in the course of our work. This code of conduct applies to anyone working for the ICRC, that means all employees, including consultants and volunteers, are all required to treat such information on a strictly confidential basis. All visits to sensitive areas are conducted with the prior agreement with decision makers.

The ICRC welcomes questions about our work and strive to be as transparent as possible about our operations without jeopardizing the confidential and bilateral dialogue that is central to our engagement with parties to conflicts across the globe.

Question: Does ICRC hinder the Russian Red Cross (RRC) convoy from delivering aid through Aghdam road? Is the ICRC putting a pressure on the RRC in relation to the humanitarian aid delivery through Aghdam road?

We refute allegations that the ICRC is hindering efforts by the Russian Red Cross to deliver assistance in the area or is furthering any political agenda whatsoever.

The decision to allow humanitarian aid through or not is in the hands of the decision-makers.

Our aim is strictly humanitarian to reach those most in need of assistance in line with our fundamental principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

The ICRC has been in talks over the last week with the decision-makers as well as our Red Cross and Red Crescent partners about different options to get aid into the area by both the Lachin corridor and the Aghdam road. The organization works in full transparency, coordinates its activities with all decision-makers, and only operates with their agreement.