Dear Mr. Roth,
We, a group of CSOs and experts involved in the promotion, research, and protection of human rights in Azerbaijan, would like to note that Human Rights Watch World Report 2022 on the human rights situation in 102 countries is important for the protection of human rights and freedoms throughout the world, as well as in Azerbaijan, and for inculcating human rights values in general. We highly value your report.
We appreciate that in the report you touched upon a number of very important issues on Azerbaijan. One of the important issues in the report is the section on the results of the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
We have a few questions for you, just to clarify some points related to this section for our future activities. Please elucidate the following issues:
- UN Safe Schools Declaration
In the report related to Azerbaijan, you have stated that “According to official data, at least 71 schools were damaged or destroyed on the Armenian side and 54 on the Azerbaijani side. Despite the severe damage to schools during the conflict, Azerbaijan had yet to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an international agreement to protect education during armed conflict signed by 112 countries.”
Although the report on Armenia provides the same figures, it does not mention the Safe Schools Declaration. However, Armenia joined the Safe Schools Declaration in 2017 and made a voluntary commitment to implement this document. As you mentioned, 54 schools were destroyed by Armenians in Azerbaijan, but this was not stated as a violation of the abovementioned Declaration. Of course, accession to this Declaration would be a positive step for Azerbaijan, and we will recommend it to the government of Azerbaijan.
Our question is, where did the figures for the destroyed schools come from? In general, how is the collected information verified? According to which official data you take the number of destroyed schools from both sides? Our question is whether Armenia’s accession to the Safe Schools Declaration does not absolve it of responsibility for the destruction of schools in Azerbaijan.
- Concerning prisoners of war (POWs)
In the report related to Azerbaijan, you have noted that “in 2021, Azerbaijan returned more than 100 Armenian POWs and civilian detainees. In September, the Armenian ombudsman’s office stated that at least 41 POWs and four civilian captives remained in Azerbaijani custody; the exact number remaining in custody is unclear. The Azerbaijani government refuses to acknowledge any of these detainees as POWs.Azerbaijani authorities consistently claimed that all remaining Armenian soldiers in custody were terrorism suspects.”
We have a question for you to know your position on this issue as a reputable human rights organization. Pursuant to Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention on Humanitarian Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949) and Article 983 of the Convention’s Official Commentary on 2020 (“Obligation to distinguish”), as well as under customary international humanitarian law, “the failure of individual combatants to distinguish themselves while engaged in an attack or in a military operation preparatory to an attack means they forfeit the right to prisoner-of-war status.” Here, we are talking about actions committed during military operations, regardless of identity. Persons of Armenian descent who are detained in Azerbaijan and have not yet been returned are not committed crimes during the 44-day war but after the end of the hostilities agreement. Persons of Armenian descent belonging to the category of POWs were already released by the Azerbaijani government through the mediation of various countries.
Our specific question is, do you consider those who were detained for the actions committed after the November 10 statement to end the hostilities, not during the 44-day military operation, as prisoners of war?
- Prosecution for crimes committed
In the report related to Azerbaijan, you have stated that, “In December 2020, several international media outlets reported that Azerbaijani authorities arrested four servicemen for desecrating the bodies of dead Armenian soldiers and vandalizing gravestones at Armenian cemeteries.”
We hope that the perpetrators of the crime you mentioned will be punished. At least the launching of the criminal prosecution against them gives grounds to say so.
However, in the report related to Armenia, HRW stated that “It also documented the ill-treatment, including torture, of seven Azerbaijani POWs by Armenian forces. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any investigations by Armenian authorities into alleged war crimes committed by Armenian forces during the war”.
We would like to note that according to International Humanitarian Law, all states must investigate war crimes allegedly committed by their citizens or armed forces or in their territories and, if necessary, prosecute suspects. They should also investigate other war crimes under their jurisdiction and, if necessary, prosecute suspects. In the Chiragov vs. Armenia case at the European Court of Human Rights, the Court stated that Armenia is, in fact, responsible for the effective control of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. That is, Armenia must be held accountable, regardless of whether any violation is committed by Armenia or a regime operating illegally in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Our question is whether HRW has made any recommendations to Armenia, since Armenia has not yet held anyone accountable for any crimes committed by the Armenian military.
Mr. Kenneth Roth,
In connection with the above, please let us know your opinion on the issues raised by us. The ideas that you will share will help us form our own approaches to the issues raised in our future activities. We express our deep gratitude in advance.
- Ramil Iskandarli, Chairman of the Legal Analysis and Reseach Public Union
- Novela Jafarova, human rights defender, Chairperson of the Society for the Protection of Women’s Rights of Azerbaijan named after D. Aliyeva
- Sahib Mammadov, Chairman of the Citizens’ Labor Rights Protection League
- Alasgar Mammadli, Independent lawyer, Media Law expert
- Dilara Efendiyeva, Director of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Civil Peace Platform
- Jasarat Huseynzade,Chairman of the Support for Information İnitiatives Public Union
- Ramil Mammadli, Military expert
- Ziya Guliyev, Founder of the Law Society of Azerbaijan
- Saida Gojamanly, Director of the Azerbaijan Bureau of Human Rights and Law Respect
- Rasul Jafarov, Chairman of the Baku Human Rights Club
- Alimammad Nuriyev, President of the “Constitution” Research Foundation
- Chingiz Ganizade, Chairman of the Committee of Democracy and Human Rights
- Mirvari Gahramanli, Chariperson of the Oil Workers Rigths Protection Public Union
- Mirali Huseynov, Chairman of the Democracy Learning Public Association
- Farman Nabiyev, President of the Mingechevir Parents Association
- Elmari Mamishov, Deputy Chairman of the Legal Analysis and Research Public Union
- Zaur Ibrahimov, Chairman of the “Priority” Center for Socio-Economic Research
- Azer Allahverenov, Chairman of the Eurasian Migration Initiatives Public Union
- Hafiz Hasanov, Chairman of the Law and Development Public Union
- Vugar Ahmadov, Azerbaijani-American Youth Social Association
- Vusala Huseynli, Chairperson of the Women Reformers and Innovation Public Union
- Elchin Salmanov, Chairman of the Azerbaijan Youth Rights Protection Center
- Mehriban Zeynalova, Chief Executive Officer of the “Clean World” Women’s Aid Public Union
- Kamala Aghazade, Chairperson of the Azerbaijani Children Public Union
- Rafig Ismayilov, Director of the For Civil Society Independent Advice and Assistance Center
- Khalid Kazimov, Chairman of the Regional Human Rights and Media Center Public Union
- Davud Rahimli, President of Union of Disabled People Organizations
- Ahmad Abbasbayli, Chairman of the Development of Society and Citizen Relations Public Association
- Kamala Ashumova, Executive Director, Reliable Future Youth Organization
- Fariz Akberov, Independent Lawyer