The recent military aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh, launched on 19 September 2023 by Azerbaijan, followed the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the ten-month blockade of the Nagorno-Karabakh. This aggression was obviously intended at the eventual depopulation of ethnic Armenians. Consequently, within a matter of days more than 100 600 were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in Armenia, resulting in the ultimate ethnic cleansing of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The atrocities of Azerbaijan were followed by a new cycle of arbitrary arrests and detentions of former and current de-facto state and military officials of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Ruben Vardanyan (former State Minister of NK), Davit Babayan (former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh), Bako Sahakyan (former president of Artsakh Republic), Arkady Ghukasyan (former president of Artsakh Republic), Arayik Harutyunyan (former president of Artsakh Republic), Davit Ishkhanyan (chairman of the National Assembly of Artsakh Republic), Davit Manukyan (former deputy commander of the Artsakh Defense Forces), Levon Mnatsakanyan (former commander of the Defense Forces) based on fabricated, mostly terrorism-related charges. Photos and videos published by the Azerbaijani authorities depict humiliating scenes of the arrests of some of them.
To date, more than three dozen Armenians are held in arbitrary detention in Azerbaijan.This group includes Armenian servicemen and civilians captured during the 2020 war as well as those arrested at the illegal Azerbaijani check point in the Lachin corridor, and in the result of military attacks against Armenia. It is evident that Aliyev’s administration is using the captives as bargaining chips to extract concessions from Armenia, effectively holding them hostage. It's important to note that all captives have been convicted or accused of baseless charges in Azerbaijan.
The lives of all ethnic Armenians held in captivity in Azerbaijan, whether unlawfully detained or imprisoned, are in grave danger, and they are exposed to a significant risk of torture and ill-treatment. It is futile to discuss the potential for ensuring fair trial guarantees for these individuals.
The US Department of State in its 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Azerbaijan stressed the pervasive problems with the independence of the judiciary, stating that the judiciary generally did not enforce the right to a fair and public trial in most cases that were widely considered to be politically motivated, also referring to credible reports indicating that in such cases judges and prosecutors took instructions from the Presidential Administration and the Justice Ministry. The report also specifically refers to the prosecutions of Armenian civilians and servicemembers Azerbaijan took into custody both during the fall 2020 hostilities and following the November 2020 cease-fire, asserting that the government continued to prosecute detained Armenian civilians and servicemen in public trials that lacked elements of due process such as the right to choose one’s own legal counsel.
The total absence of independent judiciary in Azerbaijan was documented in the Freedom House report 2022, stating that the judiciary is corrupt and subservient to the executive. Torture, cruel and degrading treatment, physical abuse and humiliation of Armenian POWs by Azerbaijani forces, amongst others, was regularly documented by the Human Right Watch in its reports. The need for affording POW status for captured combatants and ensuring their return after the end of hostilities was stressed by HRW, while prosecution of Armenian Prisoners of war was qualified as a breach of Geneva Convention III.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in its resolution 2391 (2021) expressed concern about the detention conditions of the Armenians captured after the trilateral statement, who are still in captivity, most of whom have faced or are facing speedy criminal trials, which may raise fair trial issues under the European Convention on Human Rights, it called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release all remaining captives and return them to Armenia without further delay.
Although Azerbaijan is a party to numerous treaties prohibiting arbitrary deprivation of liberty, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, European Convention on Human Rights, it continues to show flagrant disregard for its international obligations, including the binding Orders of the International Court of Justice, resolutions and recommendations of numerous international organizations.
We are now witnessing the continuation of the long-standing criminal behavior and human rights abuse by Azerbaijan which is nourished by impunity. Specialized mandate bodies, the international community, and local as well as international human rights defenders should not leave these individuals at the mercy of the Azerbaijani judiciary.
The undersigned civil society organizations