HRW Calls for International Pressure on Baku to Release POWs

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia Rachel Denber

“Asbarez”- Azerbaijan’s international partners should press the government of President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to hold perpetrators of torture and degrading treatment against Armenians accountable, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia Rachel Denber told Armenpress in an interview published on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch on Friday said that Armenian prisoners of war were abused in custody and at the time capture and detention. The report, which included detailed accounts of torture and abuse by Armenians who were held captive by Azerbaijan, called the incidents “a war crime.”

“The abuse, including torture of detained Armenian soldiers, is abhorrent and a war crime,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is also deeply disturbing that a number of missing Armenian soldiers were last seen in Azerbaijan’s custody and it has failed to account for them.”

“Human Rights Watch documented cases in which Azerbaijani forces subjected POWs to cruel and degrading treatment and torture– either when they were captured, during their transfer, or while in custody at various detention facilities. We also documented cases when they abused civilians. These are serious violations of the Geneva Conventions that rise to the level of a war crime. Azerbaijan’s international partners should press the government to hold the perpetrators accountable. They should regularly request information and updates on investigations and trials. This should be done in the framework of bilateral relations with Azerbaijan and also in multilateral fora, including the UN, the Council of Europe and the OSCE,” Denbar said in written responses to Armenpress.

The Human Rights Watch official told Armenpress that regardless of the status of individuals in custody, “Azerbaijan still has obligations to protect their rights to decent conditions in custody, and to ensure that they are not subjected to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry commented on the HRW report, with its spokesperson, Anna Naghdalyan, calling Azerbaijan’s treatment of Armenian captives “crimes against humanity.”

Naghdalyan said the report establishes that a number of Armenian soldiers were last seen in Azerbaijan’s custody and Azerbaijan has failed to account for them. This indicates a high probability of large-scale enforced disappearances not only among servicemen, but also captive civilians.

“The continued captivity of the Armenian PoWs and civilian hostages after four months of ceasefire clearly demonstrates that the violations of international humanitarian law by Azerbaijan are ongoing. Provided that the reports of ill-treatment and torture of the Armenian PoWs indicate their systematic nature, their continued captivity, humiliation and torture may amount to the crimes against humanity,” added Naghdalyan.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, citing the HRW report, called Azerbaijan’s treatment of the captives “a gross violation of international law.

“The latest report from Human Rights Watch confirmed what many of us feared: Azerbaijani forces abused Armenian prisoners of war and civilians, and with an estimated 200 still being unlawfully detained, there is a risk of further abuse. The torture and cruelty inflicted on these Armenian captives is a gross violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions, and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Schiff.