The fate of nearly 200 Armenians reportedly in Azerbaijani custody remains unclear amid reports of abuse and humiliation, months after their return was mandated in a cease-fire ending the two countries’ armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
In response to reports of abuse of Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian captives detained by Azerbaijan after their recent armed conflict, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“We are deeply concerned by the reports of dehumanizing treatment and abuse, including torture, of Armenians captured and detained by Azerbaijan after the recent armed conflict,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “We urge the Azerbaijani authorities to fully cooperate with the efforts of the European Court of Human Rights to investigate the validity of reports of dehumanizing treatment of Armenian detainees regardless of their status and ensure those still in custody are provided with all protections required under international human rights and humanitarian law, including freedom from torture and inhuman treatment, and that details of their repatriation are provided. As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is obligated to fully cooperate with the court and provide all requested information to facilitate a transparent investigation of these serious issues.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan entered an armed conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2020, which ended when a cease-fire statement was finalized that November. While both sides were required to return detainees under the statement’s terms, the Azerbaijani authorities have been accused of holding Armenian POWs and civilian captives. Armenian detainees have faced abuse and humiliation while in Azerbaijani custody, according to social media accounts that were preliminarily verified by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in March.
The Armenian government appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) over the fate of scores of detainees believed to be in Azerbaijan. In early March, the ECtHR maintained its interim measures—which are meant to protect individuals from further bodily harm while the case is ongoing—for 188 people. The ECtHR also called on the Azerbaijani government to provide more information on the medical status of the detainees, the conditions of their detention, and the details of their planned repatriation.
Azerbaijan is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021, Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020, and is categorized as a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2021.