Armenian officials shined the spotlight on illegal trials being staged in Azerbaijan of Armenian prisoners, with Armenia’s representative to the European Court of Human Rights telling the court that the sham legal proceedings were a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
The Azerbaijani authorities are currently conducting fake criminal prosecutions against Armenian nationals detained as a result of the war unleashed on September 27, 2020, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Armenia’s representative at the ECHR said in a statement.
“The Government of the Republic of Armenia has repeatedly stated and reaffirms its position that persons currently held illegally in Azerbaijan are prisoners of war, abducted civilians, and are guaranteed protection under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Any criminal case against the captured Armenian persons has no legal basis and clearly contradicts the international legal norms,” Kirakosyan said.
Furthermore he added, the entire process of criminal prosecution on the basis of fictitious charges against Armenian civilians and POWs is accompanied by gross violations of the guarantees of the basic elements of a fair trial.
“In particular, persons prosecuted under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law should enjoy the minimum guarantees of a fair trial, such as the presumption of innocence. They also have the right to get informed promptly and thoroughly of the nature of the charge in a language understandable to them, have time and place to prepare his defense, to defend himself in person or through lawyers chosen by him, to use the free service of an interpreter, etc. The mentioned legally binding guarantees are obviously violated by the Azerbaijani authorities, which has been repeatedly confirmed by a number of international organizations, including the ECHR,” Kirakosyan said.
“Taking into account the above, the Office of the Representative of the Republic of Armenia in the ECHR has repeatedly appealed to the ECHR with various demands to terminate the criminal prosecutions against the mentioned persons, release them or otherwise guarantee their rights. However, given that the only urgent remedy under the ECtHR’s legal mechanisms is the possibility of applying an interim measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, which is unfortunately very limited and applies mainly in the event of an irreversible risk of a breach of the right to life or non-torture, the ECHR refrains from interfering in the criminal prosecution of these individuals,” he added.
Kirakosyan’s office is currently pursuing professional discussions with the competent state bodies, other interested parties, on the possibility of resorting to effective tools in the context of other international legal mechanisms to obtain information on illegal prosecutions of Armenian captive Armenians, to intervene or prevent them.
At the same time, taking into consideration that the ongoing international legal processes are of a complex, multi-layered nature, as well as the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities will try to use any opportunity to “legitimize” the fake criminal prosecutions initiated by them, Kirakosyan’s office called on lawyers, advocates, the Chamber of Advocates or any other persons and/or human rights organizations to discuss the matter with the his office before taking any action.
Armenia has drawn the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council to the fake trials of Armenian POWs.
“European Court of Human Rights adopted 201 interim measures with regard to the combatants and civilians of Armenian origin detained by Azerbaijan, but the latter refused to acknowledge the detention of most of them, failed to meaningfully cooperate with the said Court and launched proceedings against 58 detainees, even though the international humanitarian law (IHL) specifically requires to set POWs free after hostilities,” Armenia’s Permanent Representative Andranik Hovhannisyan said Monday in an address to the Rights Council.
“Should any charges be pushed, IHL prescribes fair trails based on presumption of innocence and right to be tried by an independent and impartial court,” the Ambassador noted.
“Azerbaijan violates all these norms. It failed to provide prior notification about judicial proceedings, to specify the charges, as well as to extend appropriate legal assistance to the detainees. None of them is represented by a lawyer of their choice in a country where independence of courts is basically non-existent. The judge, who presides over the trials, is notorious for the politically-motivated sentences imposed upon several Azerbaijani HRDs,” the Ambassador noted.
He stressed that it is beyond reasonable doubt that this mistreatment is a flagrant denial of justice and hostage taking in gross violation of IHL.
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan also has addressed the matter, saying the trials are artificial and serve as a veil for the outside world, as a “justification” for the refusal to release the captives.
The Azerbaijani authorities have ignored the mandatory humanitarian demand for the immediate return of the captives from the very beginning, said Tatoyan. “Instead, they were engaged in political bargaining and human trafficking, for example, in the case of exchanging people held hostage for maps of minefields,” explained Tatoyan who said that a video that has surfaced, in which Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev is heard saying that his government was keeping the captives as a political bargaining chip, is proof of the fact.
Tatoyan explained that the trials are based on the “confessional testimonies” of the captives and it is done in the conditions when the life of the captives is under real daily threat, and the absolute prohibition of inhumane treatment is grossly violated.
“Provocation of hostility at the state level continues. This practice is substantiated in the ombudsman’s special report on gross violations of international law. In such circumstances, it is useless to speak about a fair trial or any other right. The demonstrative coverage of the trials by the Azerbaijani authorities in ways that violate human dignity is condemnable. This coverage brings about calls to torture and kill the captives and provokes hatred (evidence is documented),” Tatoyan said.
“Ongoing complaints and alerts to the Human Rights Defender from the families of prisoners and missing persons clearly show that trials cause additional mental suffering and pain. Finally, we must not forget the fundamental fact that they were taken captive within the framework of the Artsakh conflict, which is not over yet. In other words, all servicemen and civilians held in Azerbaijan are captives from the beginning,” Arman Tatoyan said adding that the fake proceeding violated the 1949 Geneva Convention.