In an interesting development in the saga of the Orange telecom company, researchers at the Kohelet Policy Forum have discovered that the company actively does business in occupied Azerbaijan. International law expert Eugene Kontorovich writes in the Washington Post-hosted Volokh Conspiracy blog:
Orange provides cell phone service in Nagorno-Karabakh, an area of Azerbaijan that has been occupied by Armenia since seizing it in a bloody 1992-94 war. The U.N., along with the E.U. and U.S., considers the area occupied territory. Nonetheless, Armenian settlers have moved into the occupied territory in in significant numbers, amid constant complaints from Baku and others.
Nor is this Karabakh some long-forgotten frozen conflict. Fighting broke out this year across the line of control, killing dozens, and a full scale war over the occupied territory is looming.
In other words, Orange, and the French government, is committing what a senior French official just described as a war crime. Indeed, by the theoretical international law standards applied to Israel, Orange’s behavior in Armenia is particularly egregious. Having cell phone towers in the West Bank (the purported crime of Orange’s Israeli licensee) does not involve any recognition of Israeli sovereignty or any judgement about the status of the territory.
On the other hand, Orange’s website touting its Karabakh service refers to the territory as “NKR”, or the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. This refers to the self-proclaimed, entirely unrecognized state (akin to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) which is entirely controlled by Armenia. U.N. Resolutions have specifically called for the “nonrecognition” of the NKR.
. . . .
If Ambassador Araud is right, Orange, and Mr. Gelibter, should be worried about war crimes suits brought by Azerbaijan, especially its vocal population of refugees from Karabakh. The good news for them is that the Ambassador is wrong – there is absolutely no law, rule, or general practice against doing business in occupied territories. Indeed, Mr. Gelibter can introduce my newly-published article in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law on the subject as his fist defense exhibit.
The point is not that France (and Europe more generally) does not always live up to the rules it professes to believe in. Rather, its conduct shows that those rules are not rules at all, but made-up pretexts to condemn Israeli conduct.