Press Release of the Press Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Today marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Enforced disappearance is a problem encountered by thousands in Azerbaijan for almost three decades. 3890 persons (3171 servicemen, 719 civilians) from Azerbaijan are still missing as a result of the aggression by Armenia. Armenia extensively practiced taking and holding of hostages and mistreatment and summary execution of Azerbaijani prisoners of war and hostages since the early 1990s. Despite the fact that the taking of hostages is clearly prohibited by international humanitarian law, 267 Azerbaijani civilians (including 29 children; 98 women; 112 elderly people) were taken hostage and weren’t released by Armenia. Until now, 1102 Azerbaijani hostages (including 224 children; 357 women; 225 elderly people) have been subsequently released from Armenian captivity.
By these illegal acts, Armenia seriously violated the relevant provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions relative to the treatment of prisoners of war and to the civilian persons in time of war, as well as their first Additional Protocol. Along with relevant norms of international humanitarian law, the issues related to missing persons are also considered in the context of internationally protected human rights, in particular those relating to the right to be protected from arbitrary detention, the right to fair trial affording all judicial guarantees, the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the prohibition of enforced disappearances, the rights of persons deprived from liberty and others.
Those reported missing among Azerbaijani population disappeared in circumstances that raise serious concerns as to their well-being, particularly given the atrocities widely practiced by armed forces of Armenia during the conflict. Similar to other breaches of international humanitarian law, unlawful detention, torture and outrages on the personal dignity of detained hostages and prisoners of war were part of systematic policy of collective punishment and discrimination against Azerbaijanis.
The State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons of the Republic of Azerbaijan identified that in violation of the norms of international humanitarian law the Azerbaijani hostages were detained under unbearable conditions, together with prisoners of war, were transferred from one place of detention to another, both in the formerly occupied territories of Azerbaijan and in the territory of Armenia. There was mass annihilation of Azerbaijani prisoners of war and hostages by armed forces of Armenia in 1990s. Many hostages, including children, women, and the elderly, were brutally killed, some died later in Armenian captivity as a result of torture, intolerable conditions and diseases. As the corpses of the dead were not handed over to Azerbaijan, these persons are still considered missing.
Despite the repeated appeals of the State Commission, only a few years ago it was possible to get information about 54 Azerbaijani prisoners of war and hostages, including 6 women who were registered by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and visited at various times by the ICRC’s representatives at the places of detention.
For more than 25 years, Armenia has failed its obligation under the applicable international law to conduct effective investigation into the fate of missing persons. Instead, Armenia denies its responsibility for the aggression it unleashed and for the incalculable human suffering caused, glorifies war criminals and terrorists, and propagates hatred and Azerbaijanaphobia. Azerbaijan has initiated judicial proceedings to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the atrocity crimes. While accountability and redress serve to ensure the rights and interests of the victims and must be an inevitable consequence of the offenses committed, they are also an essential preventive tool and one of the key prerequisites on the path to genuine reconciliation.