On December 28, 2020, the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations addressed a letter to the UN Secretary General, which was distributed to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan says the the letter contains issues related to the citizens of the Republic of Armenia and their rights held captive in Azerbaijan. Therefore he deems it necessary to address those parts of the letter. In particular:
- Paragraph 6 of the appendix to the letter of the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the UN states that within the framework of the anti-terrorist measure, the Azerbaijani authorities found 62 Armenian servicemen, who were drafted mainly from Shirak, are currently detained and are under investigation in Azerbaijan.
The letter mentions the Armenian servicemen as members of a subversive group of the Armenian Armed Forces and mentions that they were sent to the “Lachin region of Azerbaijan” ostensibly to carry out terrorist acts against the personnel of the Azerbaijani armed forces and civilians.
Then, among other issues, the representative of Azerbaijan, using mainly the part concerning the mentioned Armenian servicemen held captive in Azerbaijan, made political conclusions, including proposing to the UN to take certain actions against Armenia. The letter concludes on the same principle that Armenia violates the trilateral statement signed by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 10, 2020.
- The Human Rights Defender of Armenia states that it is absolutely reprehensible to link the issue of Armenian servicemen in captivity in Azerbaijan with territorial issues and to explicitly politicize it. It grossly violates the post-war humanitarian process and international human rights requirements.
Like the 62 Armenians mentioned in the letter, all other Armenian servicemen are prisoners of war, they were in their places of detention solely for the purpose of performing their legal duty, to serve in the army, and they must be released and returned to Armenia without preconditions. This conclusion is based on the results of the monitoring and investigation of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia and is supported by solid evidence.
Therefore, initiating criminal proceedings against 62 Armenian servicemen in captivity in Azerbaijan, detaining them and calling them terrorists in particular is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in general. They cannot be prosecuted or detained for participating in hostilities.
These are requirements set out in particular in the Third Convention of 1949.
- The Human Rights Defender of Armenia also considers it necessary to make a special statement that the politicization of human rights or humanitarian issues in the post-war process is inadmissible.
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 all circumstances, whether or not it is enshrined in specific conflict resolution documents.
Therefore, point 8 of the tripartite statement 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 dependence on other points of the announcement.
- It is absolutely inadmissible 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 mentioned statement should be applied both before November 10 and to all the situations that arose after it as long 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 were cases when the Azerbaijani armed forces captured Armenians after the November 10 tripartite statement, but they later returned to Armenia.
- It is a matter of fundamental importance that the Azerbaijani authorities delay the return of 62 Armenian prisoners of war by falsifying the legal process, artificially granting them the status of suspects or accused and using detention as a punishment.
As international humanitarian law prohibits unjustified delays in the release of prisoners of war and considers it a war crime, it is clear to the Human Rights Defender that the Azerbaijani authorities are clearly abusing legal processes to achieve their goal.
This behavior of the Azerbaijani authorities directly contradicts the intentions of the parties that signed the trilateral statement on November 10.
The point is that based on the requirement of point 8 of that statement, the Republic of Armenia has already transferred to Azerbaijan crimes in Artsakh, including two convicted murderers of civilians. Azerbaijan transferred Armenia to Armenians formally convicted in that country on the same principle.
Therefore, the above also makes it obvious that even by initiating criminal proceedings and making the Armenian servicemen suspects or accused, the delay in the return of the captives is obviously artificial, it is a clear abuse of legal processes; it violates not only international humanitarian law, but also the trilateral statement of November 10, the intentions of the parties that signed it.
- The ombudsman’s research and investigation results consistently confirm that the Azerbaijani authorities initially artificially delayed the release of prisoners of war and otherwise deprived of their liberty by the Armenian side, without continuously reporting the true number of prisoners.
Moreover, the evidence gathered by the Human Rights Defender’s Office confirms that there are more of them than the Azerbaijani authorities have confirmed. This refers to the return of 44 prisoners.
The Human Rights Defender has registered numerous cases when, despite the evidence confirmed by videos and other evidence, the Azerbaijani authorities deny people access to them or delay the approval process.
Studies show that all this is 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.
- The absolute urgency of the issue of the release of prisoners should also 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 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 compatriots, Armenians, as well as the protection of health, property and other vital necessities. This issue is especially important against the background of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the mass destruction of peaceful settlements in Artsakh, which were committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces and such separate acts are still committed.
- I therefore call the attention of the United Nations and other international human rights bodies to the issues raised in this Declaration.
- The highest authorities of Armenia should take into account the circumstances mentioned in this statement of the Human Rights Defender when conducting negotiations.
Based on these principles, the highest bodies of the Armenian government must act in such a way or with such guarantees as to ensure the unconditional return of our compatriots to the Homeland within the framework of the humanitarian and human rights process.