The Tom Lantos Congressional Human Rights Commission convened an emergency hearing on Wednesday to address the urgent humanitarian crisis in Artsakh, with expert testimony warning that the Biden Administration’s inaction in Artsakh can be deemed as the United States complicity in genocide of the Armenians.
The hearing was opened by the commission’s co-chair Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), who said that the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development were invited to participate but did not respond to the invitation.
“This hearing has two empty chairs – two – those of U.S. Department of State and USAID. I requested that 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 unique, a unique case of absolute non-response,” Rep. Smith said in his opening remarks.
He repudiated the Biden Administration for ignoring numerous calls from Congressional leader to take more drastic measures to prevent a “genocide” in Artsakh, criticizing Secretary of State Antony Blinken for continuously voicing “concern” instead of taking drastic action.
Testifying at the hearing were the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocapmo, whose report last month accusing Azerbaijan and its leadership of perpetrating and committing genocide against the people of Artsakh has received international attention.
Reiterating his assertions in his report, Ocampo said that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh need the U.S. government to make “NeverAgain a reality because for the Armenians who experienced the Armenian Genocide in 1915, ‘Never Again’ is very real and a necessity.” The human rights expert was referencing a call to action to prevent genocide, one that was used by President Joe Biden in his 2021 statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Ocampo presented poignant argument for the more effective action by the U.S. He said as a party of the Genocide Convention, the US has to prevent and punish it. However, he added, the will to take drastic measure must be there.
“The US is deeply involved in the negotiations. But there can be no negotiations between the genocide perpetrator and the victim. Just stop the genocide and then discuss negotiation. You cannot be involved in negotiations when President Aliyev is using genocide as a method of negotiation,” Ocampo said.
“If you know that President Aliyev is using genocide and trying to deny the genocide, the U.S.’s assistance to the denial of genocide could be considered complicity,” the former ICC Prosecutor said.
“The US President or Secretary of State can officially tell Mr. Aliyev to remove, unconditionally, the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, or we consider you responsible for genocide. That will trigger a lot of consequences,” Ocampo added.
He said that instead of condemnations and measures to stop the genocide, the U.S. continually is calling for negotiations between the people of Artsakh –the victims—and Baku –the perpetrators.
“In [Nagorno-Karabakh’s] case […] the negotiation is between a GENOCIDAIRE and his victims. You cannot [arrange] a negotiation between Hitler and the people in Auschwitz. You should stop Auschwitz, and then discuss negotiation. [The U.S.] cannot be involved in a negotiation when President Aliyev uses genocide as a method of negotiation,”
Also speaking at the hearing was David L. Phillips, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, who concurred with Ocampo’s conclusion that a genocide in underway in Artsakh.
He pointed out that there are two succinct law in place that can compel the U.S. to take action: Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the U.S. government to sanction those foreign government officials worldwide that are human rights offenders.
“Since when does the United States ask the U.N.’s permission to act? We have national legislation that gives us the tools to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of genocide, such as the Global Magnitsky Act, or Section 907,” Phillips said, adding that the U.S. seems more interested – or taken – by Azerbaijan’s oil and gas money to take decisive action.