Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor

Situation of the Rights of Persons Missing as a Result of the 44-day Hostilities of 2020, and Their Family Members

March 23, 2022

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Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Vanadzor Office carried out conducted a study of problems of persons missing  as a result of the 44-day  war  and their families  between September 27 and November 9, 2020, considering the State’s obligation to ensure the life, health and safety of its citizens and to raise public awareness about them. The results of the aforementioned study are presented in the report “Situation of the rights of persons missing as a result of the 44-day hostilities of 2020, and their family members”.

 

Representatives of state authorities, members of parliament, ambassadors, representatives of international and local organizations, as well as family members of missing persons are invited to the event. Family members of missing persons will have an opportunity to present the problems they faced during and after the hostilities.

 

Problems related to the protection of the rights of missing persons and their families arose during the first Artsakh war.

 

According to the official data, the number of persons missing from the Republic of Armenia during 1988-2005 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was 437 - 224 were servicemen and 213 were civilians. 723 persons are considered to be missing from the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, 250 of whom were servicemen and 473 were civilians. As per data of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the number of persons missing from Armenia as a result of the first Karabakh conflict is about 400.


As a result of the war unleashed by Azerbaijan on 27 September 2020 with the support of Turkey and involvement of mercenary terrorists, many persons have gone missing. According to the RA Investigative Committee, as a result of the aggressive war unleashed by Azerbaijan, overall 3822 servicemen and civilians from the Republic of Artsakh and Republic of Armenia were killed. As of 21.03.2022, whereabouts of 187 servicemen and 21 civilians are unknown.

 

In addition to statistical data, the report addresses legislation on the rights of missing persons and their families, legislative gaps, the problems those families faced for more than a year, and the state's obligations with respect to missing persons and their families.

 

The report also addresses the activities of state institutions dealing with the problems of missing persons and their families, their powers and the situation of implementation of their functions and their effectiveness.

 

The situation of the right of missing persons’ families to receive information regarding their relatives’ fate, whereabouts, and circumstances of disappearance, remains worrisome.

 

The report also addresses challenges in the process of identification.

 

Besides the problem relating to the right to receive information, families face a number of other problems, in particular, lack of legal status, social, healthcare, psychological support, etc.

 

Thus, in this report, we once again present the situation of protection of missing persons and their families, as well as fulfillment of the State’s obligations, and present state authorities and international organizations with recommendations aimed at solving the problems of missing persons and their families.    

 

Having studied the problems of the missing persons and their families during the 44-day war and in the post-war period, the situation of fulfillment of the state’s obligations towards them, we come to the following conclusion:

 

  1. The right of families of missing persons to receive information about the whereabouts and fate of their relatives has not been effectively assured by the state․

  2. Without adequate substantiations, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Armenia refused to provide information on the number of persons missing  as a result of the 44-day hostilities; on the other hand, this information was regularly published on websites of official bodies and in response to media questions․

  3. There is no unified database on missing persons, where complete data on missing persons would be collected․

  4. Different state agencies exercised the same powers and functions during the war and in the post-war period, as a result of which families of missing persons do not know which agency they can turn to, to obtain information on various issues․

  5. The agencies responsible for working with the families of missing persons do not have the appropriate knowledge and skills, trained staff, to ensure effective solution of the families’ problems.

  6. Information on the results confirming or denying the identification is received in an unreasonable time, families receive information about the results from different agencies, which indicates the absence of a unified approach by the state to ensure the right of families to receive information, which in turn causes unpredictability and distrust of the process.

  7. The structural differences between the missing person and the body or remains handed over to the families also caused distrust.

  8. The families of missing persons, who were directly affected by the war, have many needs, in particular: social, legal, financial, and psychological support․

  9.  The absence of legal status of a missing person in the legislation of the Republic of Armenia makes their relatives go to court to declare their relative missing or dead to solve some social assistance issues, but even these statuses do not fully protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their families.

  10. Partial legislative solutions with a non-systemic and situational approach demonstrate a discretionary approach to providing social assistance, which cannot be systemic unless the state’s obligation to provide social assistance to the family of a missing person is defined by law․

  11. The circumstance of transferring servicemen to another place of service due to the service need in the manner as prescribed by the decree of the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia is not clear, as well as it is not clear what specific circumstances the service need is conditioned by, which contradicts the principle of legal certainty.

  12. Some employees of state agencies show disrespectful and inhuman treatment to the family members of missing persons.

 

Based on the conclusions made on the study of the problems of the missing persons and their families, we are putting forward a set of recommendations.


To the RA National Assembly and Government


– Adopt the RA Law ”On Missing Persons” and to define by law the legal regulations on the status of the "missing person".
– Provide in the legal regulations of the RA Law ”On Missing Persons” the obligation of the state to search for, find, identify, and return to relatives a missing person and present a clear, predictable legal procedures for this implementation.
– Establish a separate specialized state agency (for example, the Missing Persons Information Bureau or Commission), thereby excluding the existence of several agencies performing the same functions at the same time, which will be responsible for guaranteeing and resolving the rights of missing persons and their families, in particular by collecting and exchanging information, ensuring the right of the families of missing persons to receive that information.
– Provide the agency responsible for the work with missing persons and their families with the appropriate knowledge and skills, and the necessary human, technical and financial resources.
– Provide the necessary information to the families of the missing persons on the whereabouts and fate of the missing persons during the hostilities and in the post-war period, in accordance with the legal regulations of the RA Law ”On Missing Persons”.
– Guarantee in the legal regulations of the RA Law ”On Missing Persons” the social guarantees of the family members of the missing persons, the provision of healthcare, legal, and educational assistance.


To the RA Ministry of Defense


– Ensure the publication of statistics on missing persons, refrain from refusing to provide information that is not considered confidential, in case of refusal to provide information, clearly state the legal basis for it, provide sufficient, solid information on the ban of publishing information, clearly state the reasons for refusal. Consider the
public interest when denying or providing information.


To the General Staff


– In case of transfer of servicemen to another place of service due to service need/necessity in the manner prescribed by the decree of the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Armenia, clarify the circumstances substantiating the service necessity, thus ensuring the principle of legal certainty.


To the Scientific-Practical Center of Forensic Medicine


– Provide the families of the missing persons with adequate information on the significance of identification.
–Provide the families of the missing persons with information on the results confirming or denying the identification within a reasonable period of time, display a common approach in providing the families with information about the results, which can reduce unpredictability and distrust for the process.


To International Organizations


Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)


– At the PACE session, in the context of the 44-day war, discuss the Resolution 1553 (2007) on Missing persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia from the conflicts over the Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 2007, and the implementation of Recommendation 1797 (2007) on Missing persons in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia from the conflicts over the Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.


Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights


– Refer with a special report to the issue of the right of the families to receive information on the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives, the fulfillment of the obligations of the Council of Europe member states - Armenia and Azerbaijan.


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


– Consider the rights of missing persons during 44-day war in the UN Human Rights Council

 

Situation of the Rights of Persons Missing as a Result of the 44-day Hostilities of 2020, and Their Family Members⬇️

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