BERLIN – Azerbaijani forces have inhumanely treated numerous Armenian military troops captured in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Human Rights Watch said today. They subjected these prisoners of war (POWs) to physical abuse and humiliation, in actions that were captured on videos and widely circulated on social media since October.

The videos depict Azerbaijani captors variously slapping, kicking, and prodding Armenian POWs, and compelling them, under obvious duress and with the apparent intent to humiliate, to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, praise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, swear at Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and declare that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan. In most of the videos, the captors’ faces are visible, suggesting that they did not fear being held accountable.

“There can be no justification for the violent and humiliating treatment of prisoners of war,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Humanitarian law is absolutely clear on the obligation to protect POWs. Azerbaijan’s authorities should ensure that this treatment ends immediately.”

Although some of the prisoners depicted in videos Human Rights Watch reviewed have, in subsequent communications with their families, said they are being treated well, there are serious grounds for concern about their safety and well-being.

International humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, requires parties to an international armed conflict to treat POWs humanely in all circumstances. The third Geneva Convention protects POWs “particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

While exact numbers are unknown, Armenian officials in Yerevan told Human Rights Watch that Azerbaijan holds “dozens” of Armenian POWs. Armenia is known to hold a number of Azerbaijani POWs and at least three foreign mercenaries.

Dozens of videos alleging abuse of Armenian POWs have been posted to social media. Human Rights Watch closely examined 14, and spoke with the families of five POWs whose abuse was depicted. The videos were posted to Telegram channels, including Kolorit 18+ and Karabah_News, and to several Instagram accounts. None of the videos have metadata that could confirm the time and location where they were recorded attached, as it was stripped when the videos were uploaded to Telegram and other platforms. But Human Rights Watch is confident that none of these videos were posted online before October-November 2020.

Human Rights Watch also examined numerous other images and legal documents, and spoke with two lawyers, Artak Zeinalyan and Siranush Sahakyan, who represent the families of close to 40 POWs in requests filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for interim measures (urgent measures to protect people whose cases are pending with the court and who are at “imminent risk of irreparable harm”). The court granted all the requests on behalf of individual POWs to instruct the Azerbaijan government to provide information on the POWs, the lawyers said.

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