NEW YORK — Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Azerbaijan to investigate all allegations of ill-treatment against Armenian prisoners of war from last fall’s war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, and to hold those responsible to account.
Azerbaijani forces subjected POWs to “cruel and degrading treatment and torture either when they were captured, during their transfer, or while in custody at various detention facilities,” the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on March 19.
It said Azerbaijan should also immediately release all remaining Armenian POWs and civilian detainees and provide information on those who were last seen in Azerbaijani custody.
“The abuse, including torture of detained Armenian soldiers, is abhorrent and a war crime,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
“It is also deeply disturbing that a number of missing Armenian soldiers were last seen in Azerbaijan’s custody and it has failed to account for them,” Williamson added.
HRW said it had interviewed four former POWs who described “prolonged and repeated beatings” while in Azerbaijani custody.
“One described being prodded with a sharp metal rod, and another said he was subjected to electric shocks, and one was repeatedly burned with a cigarette lighter,” the group said, adding that the men “were held in degrading conditions, given very little water and little to no food in the initial days of their detention.”
HRW also cited “scores of videos” posted to social media showing scenes in which Azerbaijani officers can be seen apparently ill-treating POWs.
The watchdog said it had verified more than 20 of these videos, including through interviews with repatriated POWs and family members of servicemen who appear in the clips but have not yet returned.
“We have already seen so many terrible things that we seem to have become a type of zombie,” says Margarita Karamian, an ethnic Armenian refugee from the town of Hadrut on the front lines of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Raising concerns that POWs still in Azerbaijani custody are at risk of further abuse, HRW urged Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that the detainees “have all the protections to which they are entitled under international human rights and humanitarian law, including freedom from torture and ill-treatment.”