Armenia Ombudsman calls out Azerbaijan's politicization of POW matters

January 11, 2021 – 13:10 AMT

PanARMENIAN.Net – The Armenian Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan has responded to a letter penned by the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations (UN) and addressed to the UN Secretary General.

The letter mentions issues related to the citizens of the Republic of Armenia (RA) who are being held captive in Azerbaijan, and their respective rights. The Human Rights Defender of Armenia has addressed some parts of the letter, in particular:

1. Paragraph 6 of the appendix to the letter of the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the UN states, that within the framework of “an anti-terrorist measure”, the Azerbaijani authorities “found” 62 Armenian servicemen, who were drafted mainly from Shirak, and who are currently “detained” and are under “investigation” in Azerbaijan.

The letter refers to the Armenian servicemen as members of a subversive group of the Armenian Armed Forces and, it mentions that they were sent to the “Lachin region of Azerbaijan” ostensibly to carry out terrorist acts against Azerbaijani personnel and civilians.

Then, among other issues, the representative of Azerbaijan, mainly using the segment about the said Armenian servicemen held captive in Azerbaijan, made political conclusions, including proposing to the UN, that it take certain actions against Armenia. The letter concludes on the same premise that Armenia has violated the trilateral statement signed by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, on November 10, 2020.

2. The Human Rights Defender of Armenia hereby states, that it is absolutely reprehensible to link the issue of Armenian servicemen in captivity in Azerbaijan with territorial issues, and to improperly politicize such issues. This affront grossly violates the post-war humanitarian processes and the international human rights mandates and standards.

Like the 62 Armenian servicemen referred to in the Azeri letter, all of the other Armenian servicemen are also prisoners of war. They were in their places and positions at the time of their “detention” solely in their lawful course and scope, and for the purpose of performing their legal duties, to serve in the army. They must be released and returned to Armenia without any preconditions. This conclusion is based on the results of the monitoring and investigation of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia and is supported by sound and incontrovertible evidence.

Therefore, initiating criminal proceedings against the 62 Armenian servicemen in captivity in Azerbaijan, detaining them, and in particular, calling them “terrorists,” is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in general. They may not be prosecuted or detained for participating in the hostilities. These are requirements that are specifically enshrined in the 1949 Third Geneva Convention.

3. The Human Rights Defender of Armenia also considers it necessary to make a special report on the politicization of human rights by Azerbaijan, and the humanitarian issues ripened by its misconduct in the post-war process, all of which are impermissible under international norms and standards.

The return or release of prisoners is independent of any political process.

This must be ensured immediately after the cessation of hostilities.

This is a universally applicable automatic requirement that exists in international law in every case, whether or not it is enshrined in specific conflict resolution documents.

Therefore, point 8 of the tripartite declaration of November 10, 2020 has an autonomous meaning and should act exclusively with an autonomous interpretation. In any case, it should not be considered in connection with, or with dependence on, other points of that announcement. 4. It is absolutely inappropriate to interpret the November 10 tripartite statement as if it applies only to the situation before the signing of that statement. Such an approach grossly violates human rights and the post-war humanitarian process.

The referenced statement should be discussed in the framework of both before November 10, and all the situations that arose after it, and for as long a period as there is an objective need for the protection of human rights and the humanitarian process due to the aftermath of hostilities.

Moreover, the Human Rights Defender notes that, in practice, there have already been cases when the Azerbaijani armed forces captured Armenians after the November 10 tripartite statement, but they later were returned to Armenia.

5. It is a matter of fundamental importance that the Azerbaijani authorities are delaying the return of 62 Armenian prisoners of war by distorting the legal process, and by artificially labeling them with the status of “suspects” or “an accused,” and are using detention as a form of punishment.

Inasmuch as international humanitarian law prohibits unjustified delays in the release of prisoners of war, and it considers any such delay as constituting a “war crime,” it is clear to the Human Rights Defender that the Azerbaijani authorities are unquestionably abusing legal processes to achieve their goals. Their conduct is contrary to international laws and norms.

This behavior of the Azerbaijani authorities directly contradicts the intentions of the parties who are the signatories to the trilateral statement executed on November 10th.

The point is, that based on the requirement of point 8 of that statement, the Republic of Armenia has already transferred to Azerbaijan, perpetrators of crimes in , including two convicted murderers of civilians. Azerbaijan has also handed over Armenia, some Armenians who were “formally” convicted in that country on the same principle.

Therefore, the above also makes it rather obvious that, even by initiating criminal proceedings and making the Armenian servicemen suspects or labeling each of them as an accused, the delay in the return of the captives is not only quite obviously artificial, it is also a clear abuse of legal processes; and, it violates not only international humanitarian law, but also the November 10 trilateral statement and the intentions of the parties that signed it.

6. The research and the results of the investigation of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia continue to consistently confirm that the Azerbaijani authorities initially artificially delayed the release of the captives of the Armenian side, and otherwise deprived them of their liberty, and continue to avoid announcing the real number of the Armenians in captivity.

Moreover, the evidence gathered by the Human Rights Defender’s Office confirms that their number is higher than that which the Azerbaijani authorities have thus far confirmed (referring to the already returned 44 prisoners). The Human Rights Defender has registered numerous cases when, despite the overwhelming evidence confirmed by videos and other evidence, the Azerbaijani authorities deny people access to them and/or delay the approval process for visitations.

Studies have already shown that all of this is being done to cause mental suffering to the families of the captives and to the Armenian society in general, to play with the emotions of the Armenian society, and to keep the atmosphere tense. This applies equally to prisoners of war and civilians.

7. The absolute urgency of the issue of the release of prisoners should be considered in the context of the organized policy of propaganda of anti-Armenianism and hostility in Azerbaijan.

The reports published by the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, which are based on objective evidence, confirm the deep roots of the anti-Armenian policy in Azerbaijan, the encouragement of hostility and atrocities by the Azerbaijani authorities, and even by their cultural figures.

This issue is closely related to the letter of the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the UN, in the sense that the Armenian servicemen, first of all, protected the rights of their compatriot Armenians, as well as protection of their health, property and other vital necessities. This issue is especially important against the background of the war crimes and crimes against humanity, the mass destruction of peaceful settlements in Artsakh, all of which were committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces; and, such similar acts are still being committed.

8. I, therefore, call to the attention of the United Nations and other international human rights bodies all of the issues addressed in this Declaration.

9. The highest authorities of Armenia should take into account the circumstances referenced in this statement of the Human Rights Defender when engaged in any negotiations.

“Based on these principles, the highest bodies of the Armenian government must act in such a way, and with such guarantees, that the return of our compatriots to the Homeland is ensured within the framework of humanitarian and human rights processes,” Tatoyan concluded.

Human rights lawyer Siranush Sahakyan said on January 6 that at least 120 Armenian prisoners of war are being held in Azerbaijan. Sahakyan represents the rights of some of the POWs before the European Court of Human Rights. The lawyer said there is enough evidence proving the capture of said persons, which the Armenian side will submit to international agencies and courts. Her comments came one day after the Azerbaijani side declared about only five Armenian POWs.

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