The British Armenian Group, which has spearheaded the engagement of the international community in efforts to release Armenian prisoners of war and other captives being held in Azerbaijan, has addressed an open letter to the OSCE and the organization’s Minsk Group co-chairmen, calling on them to take a more active role in the process.
Below is the text of the open letter.
H.E. Helga Maria Schmid, Secretary-General of the OSCE
OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs:
H.E. Ambassador Andrew Schofer to the OSCE
H.E. Igor Popov Ambassador of Russia to the OSCE
H.E. Stephane Visconti,Ambassador of France to the OSCE
Vienna, Austria 7 April 2021
Ref: Second Appeal to free ALL Armenian POWs held in Azerbaijan
“May He grant that prisoners of conflicts, especially in Eastern Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, return safely to their families,” Pope Francis remembered Armenian prisoners of war during his traditional Easter message this week.
Five months since the Ceasefire that ended military activities in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), over 230 Armenian POWs and civilian captives are still held in Azerbaijan. Unlike Azerbaijan, the Armenian side, adhering to Article 8 of the trilateral Ceasefire Statement between the Russian, Azerbaijani, and Armenian Heads of State of 9 November 2020, manifested a constructive approach and promptly returned all Azerbaijani POWs held in Armenia. However, Azerbaijani authorities blatantly break international law by obscuring the actual number of Armenian POWs from the ECtHR and other international bodies. Furthermore, Azerbaijani authorities are continually obstructing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) accessing Armenian POWs in captivity and prohibiting comprehensive reports on their health and conditions of their detention to their families.
Excellency, as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, we request your immediate intervention in this ongoing humanitarian crisis traumatizing not only POWs and their families but the entire Armenian population. The Azerbaijani government led by Ilham Aliyev, continues distorting the tragic reality on the ground and spreading misinformation to the world. By preventing the repatriation of Armenian captives and POWs to their families, Aliyev’s regime grossly violates international laws on human rights, the Third Geneva Convention on POWs of 12 August 1949. Furthermore, their lack of compliance blatantly and conveniently ignores the tripartite Ceasefire Statement of November 9, 2020 in which Article 8 specifically makes clear that all POWs must be promptly exchanged.
The Human Rights Watch recently published evidence confirming that ethnic Armenians in captivity have been victims of barbaric treatment, physical and mental abuse. The overwhelming evidence on the reprehensible maltreatment of Armenian POWs by the Azerbaijani military produced by the independent press and international organizations. Additionally, in the latest AD HOC Report by the Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan in January 2021 brought to light unlawful treatment, abuse and humiliation of Armenian POWs. ISIS-style beheadings, capturing civilians, destroying the cultural and religious heritage of ethnic Armenians in Artsakh is happening right now. Neither Azerbaijani perpetrators of those despicable crimes nor the authorities ordering them, have been brought to justice or condemned by the international community until today.
Further discrediting the Armenian authorities’ right to demand the repatriation of POWs, President Ilham Aliyev declared that the remaining detainees captured after the Ceasefire, did not fall into the category of ‘prisoners of war’. He falsely purported that the remaining Armenian hostages, particularly 62 servicemen from the Shirak province of Armenia, were ‘terrorists’ and ‘saboteurs’ captured in December 2020 during an ‘anti-terrorist operation ‘carried out by the Azerbaijani military. The Armenian captives in question have been confirmed by the Human Rights Ombudsman as ‘prisoners of war’, as they were servicemen in the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) defence army fulfilling their constitutional duties and were there on legally mandated military service, all of whom were taken hostage and had no chance to escape following the sudden Ceasefire Agreement.
By delaying the return of Armenian POWs, Azerbaijan pursues political objectives of manipulating the negotiation process and gaining additional concessions from the Armenian government. The lack of appropriate response from the international organizations to Azerbaijan’s criminal actions leads to further abuse by the latter of the legal procedures, rejection of obligations of the international law, prosecution of prisoners, causing incessant suffering to the families of captives and missing persons and to the Armenian nation in homeland and across the diaspora.
We urge the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship – holding the unique mandate for the negotiation process over Artsakh recognized by the international community – to multiply all viable diplomatic efforts to:
- confirm the number of ethnic Armenian POWs and captives including all female captives detained in Azerbaijan;
- ensure urgent access of international bodies, including the ICRC, to all Armenian POWs to provide their families with full accounts on their health and detention conditions;
increase pressure on President Aliyev for the immediate and unconditional release and the repatriation of ALL Armenian POWs and captives.
We take this opportunity to forward you the link to our global petition with around 20,000 signatures demanding the release of all Armenian POWs and captives addressed to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, decision makers of the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
Due to the urgency of the crisis of Armenian POWs, we anticipate your prompt reply to the present letter.
Members of the British Armenian group