Will additional OSCE mechanisms help calm situation in Karabakh?
The killing of a two-year-old girl Zakhra and her grandmother as a result of a provocation in the Alkhanli village of Azerbaijan by the Armenian Armed Forces, activated conversations in expert circles about the need to introduce mechanisms for investigating the incidents in the region of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This idea is not new, it is regularly touched upon by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as during the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The essential question, however, is whether hypothetical investigations into such incidents will bring concrete practical results. Or, in other words: would it be possible to prosecute specific Armenian military men, who ordered the shelling of the Alkhanli village, if such mechanisms were approved and international observers would conduct a comprehensive investigation of this crime in accordance with a special mandate?
To answer this question, it is necessary to look at other examples from the international practice of regulating dormant conflicts, in which the OSCE is involved. As an example, consider the role of the OSCE in the conflict in the east of Ukraine, where the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics are in a state of neither war nor peace with the rest of Ukrainу. Both the Ukrainian and Armenian-Azerbaijani conflicts are taking place in the post-Soviet space, in both cases the OSCE has its own permanent staff with access to the conflict zone. A ceasefire regime continues to operate on the territory of both conflicts, which, however, is often violated by the parties.
Unlike the situation on the contact line between the Armenian and Azerbajani armed forces in Karabakh, which is occasionally monitored by the office of the OSCE chairman's special representative for the conflict, Andrzej Kasprzyk, the situation in the east of Ukraine is constantly monitored by 653 OSCE personnel stationed in the region within the framework of the Special Monitoring Mission (CMM ). If, in the case of Kasprzyk's office, monitoring is only one of many functions within the mandate of the OSCE chairman's special representative, the mission in Ukraine is imprisoned specifically for monitoring the situation at the front line, as well as has a mandate to conduct investigations.
For an even more graphic comparison: if the number of already few (less than ten) members of the office of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is planned to be increased by only 7 people in the future, the number of OSCE SMM observers in Donbass, according to the agreement achieved between Ukraine and Austria, will be increased by 300 people and thus reach 1000 people. The difference in scale is obvious, although the length of the front lines in these two cases is approximately equal.
Meanwhile, despite the presence of a large OSCE monitoring group in the east of Ukraine, as well as the undoubtedly higher priority of the Ukrainian conflict for the international community, there was no reduction in the intensity of military activity in Donbass. According to official data, only from the early January to June 2017, the Ukrainian army has lost more than 120 people as a result of clashes, while the number of wounded has exceeded one thousand. The exact number of people killed and wounded by the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics is not known, however, probably, there are hundreds and thousands of dead and wounded from their side as well. In Karabakh, the number of officially recognized losses from the beginning of the year does not reach even 50 people on each side.
An interesting paradox: in the east of Ukraine, where there is a large OSCE observer mission with broad powers to monitor the situation at the front and investigate incidents, the number of military incidents with a fatal outcome (including civilian casualties) is several times higher, rather than in Karabakh, which has no outside observation and direct monitoring of the situation at the front, except for monitoring agreed with both sides of the monitoring conflict in advance.
Let's return, however, to the question of how 'incident investigation mechanisms' can help in prosecuting the military who attacked the civilian population. Consider, in particular, the case of the firing of a bus near Volnovakha on January 13, 2015 - a tragic incident when 12 people were killed and 18 civilians were wounded as a result of the strike. Then the OSCE special monitoring mission, which took over the investigation of this case, did not identify the guilty side, only said that the bus was fired from the north-eastern direction. Nobody was prosecuted for this bloody crime. Second example: according to the UN, 35 civilians were killed in Donbass from March to mid-May this year. "The majority of victims was killed as a result of shelling, explosions on mines and explosive remnants of war," the UN humanitarian bulletin said. The reports of the OSCE CMM, however, do not include any specifics about the parties responsible for these and many other murders of civilians. Third example: in April of this year the OSCE machine was damaged, resulting in the death of one of the American observers. Since then there has been an investigation, but there have been no results so far and it is highly unlikely that the perpetrators will be named even in such an important for the OSCE case.
Thus, Ukraine's practice clearly demonstrates that having more observers and giving them an investigative mandate is not a guarantee of calming the situation on the contact line of the troops. The presence of hundreds of international observers does not stop the parties from mutual destruction and shelling of civilians. Not least because investigations of incidents, as a rule, are 'toothless' and, in the end, their results do not differ much from the standard statements of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group about their 'concern' in connection with the aggravation of the situation in Karabakh.
Without changing OSCE approaches in the activities of their missions in conflict zones, any mechanisms for investigating incidents will cause just a placebo effect that threatens to substitute for the process of political settlement and real sustainable recovery of the situation in the conflict zone. The willingness to call a criminal a criminal, and an aggressor an aggressor, is an absolutely necessary condition for achieving a practical effect from the activities of field groups.