A portrait of Eduard Shakhkeldyan victim of torture by Azerbaijani forces

During last autumn’s six-week war between in Nagorno-Karabakh, as Azerbaijani forces took control of areas in and around the region, they rounded up local civilians. Most younger civilians had fled the hostilities. Those remaining, with few exceptions, were older people who did not want to abandon their homes.

Human Rights Watch (HRW)has documented several cases in which Azerbaijani forces used violence to detain civilians and subjected them to torture and inhuman and degrading conditions of detention. Two detainees died in Azerbaijani captivity; one of them, based on the evidence, was most likely the victim of an extrajudicial execution. Azerbaijani forces detained these civilians even though there was no evidence that they posed any security threat – they had no weapons and did not participate in the hostilities.

More than three months after the truce, Azerbaijan has returned a total of 69 Armenian Prisoners of War (POWs) and civilians. An Armenian foreign ministry representative told HRW that they believe more than a dozen civilians are still in Azerbaijani custody. Their families are increasingly distraught, especially in light of the abundance of graphic videos of abuse of prisoners circulating on social media, and the horrendous accounts of some of those who have been repatriated.

HRW reminds that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which sets out protections for civilians in an international armed conflict, civilians are “protected persons.” The convention requires that anyone “taking no active part in the hostilities, […] shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

Also, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is bound by prohibitions on arbitrary detention as well as on torture and other degrading or inhuman treatment.

“The willful killing and ill-treatment of protected persons that we document constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. Azerbaijani authorities should, without further delay, investigate the credible allegations regarding the unlawful detention of these civilians, their inhuman and degrading treatment, and the possible extrajudicial execution of a detainee, with a view to holding all perpetrators to account. They should also promptly free and repatriate any and all civilians who remain in their custody,” says Tanya Lokshina, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division.

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