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ICRC warns about risk posed to civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A view shows the aftermath of recent shelling during the ongoing fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, on October 6, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

 As the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalates, a surge in attacks using heavy explosive weaponry on populated areas is taking a deadly toll on civilians, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday.

"The ICRC strongly condemns the reported indiscriminate shelling and other alleged unlawful attacks using explosive weaponry in cities, towns, and other populated areas, in which civilians are losing their lives and suffering terrible injuries, including life-changing ones,” said Martin Schüepp, ICRC Eurasia regional director in Geneva.

“All feasible measures must be taken to protect and spare civilians and civilian infrastructures like hospitals, schools, and markets. Water supply for civilians must also be protected. These are obligations under international humanitarian law,” Schüepp continued.

Fighting across the region has reportedly killed and injured scores of civilians on both sides of the line of contact since September 27. In recent days, there has been an increase in the use of heavy and explosive weaponry in populated areas.

Hundreds of homes and key infrastructures like hospitals and schools have been destroyed or damaged by heavy artillery fire and by airborne attacks, including missiles. Other infrastructures such as roads, electricity, gas, and communication networks have also been damaged. Families are on the move looking for safe shelter, while others have retreated underground to unheated basements sheltering day and night from violence.

The use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area against military targets in populated areas may violate international humanitarian law, which prohibits indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. The ICRC considers that explosive weapons with a wide impact area should be avoided in populated areas unless sufficient mitigation measures are taken to limit their wide-area effects and the consequent risk of civilian harm.

(Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC))

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