The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations has released a report calling for the ‘prompt’ release of POWs captured during and after the active hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever – whether a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency – may be invoked as a justification of torture and enforced disappearances,’ the UN report reads. ‘Such acts, when perpetrated in armed conflict, may also constitute war crimes.’
The experts cited in the report, which included the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that they were ‘seriously alarmed’ at reports that ‘acts of ill-treatment and the desecration of bodies’, and called on all sides to ‘treat dead bodies with dignity’.
On 29 January, after Azerbaijan released five Armenian POWs, EU spokesperson Peter Stano announced that the European Union ‘welcomed’ the move and called ‘for the immediate release of the 57 [Armenians] remaining in [Azerbaijani] custody’.
‘This would contribute to building confidence between both countries which is important for lasting peace in the region’, he wrote.
According to the official sources, at least 59 Armenian and 14 Azerbaijani POWs and civilian captives have been returned since the signing of the tripartite peace declaration. Additionally, two Azerbaijani soldiers reportedly detained by Armenia’s National Security service near the village of Tegh in the province of Syunik were released on 1 February.
At least 95 individuals are being held captive in Azerbaijan, Siranush Sahakyan, who represents the families of POWs and civilian captives in an appeal submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, told Armenia’s Public Broadcaster on 1 February. She added that she believes the real number is likely even higher.
Azerbaijan has confirmed capturing at least 62 Armenian soldiers during a skirmish in Hadrut region in December — five have since been released.
A ‘hypersensitive’ issue
Manuk Avagyan last contacted his relatives on October 4, when was in Vayk, Armenia. Relatives heard various stories about what happened to the young soldier. ‘We were told that the vehicle carrying them to Karabakh crashed. But soon after it was denied’, Ani Ghazaryan, Manuk’s cousin, told OC Media.
‘They say that Manuk was deployed to the north’, she said.
At present, the 20-year-old has been missing for over four months, one of many hundreds, though the full number remains uncertain. To the consternation of the friends and relatives of the missing, Armenia’s authorities have remained circumspect on the question of the missing, and official estimates of the number of captured and missing have not been disclosed.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan’s office stated that the exact number of the prisoners is confidential and could not be released, ’given the hypersensitive nature of the issue.’
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan criticised this approach, saying that the government should release the number of prisoners, which will demonstrate the state's ‘respect for the rights of prisoners and their families’.
In December, the head of Armenia’s Servicemen’s Insurance fund Varujan Avedikian said that they estimated there to be at least 1600 missing soldiers and civilians.