There is strong evidence that Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces committed war crimes during last year’s 44-day war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to a joint report When Embers Burst into Flames: International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law Violations During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War by the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Truth Hounds and Global Diligence LLP.
“Our field investigators found evidence that Azerbaijani forces tortured and executed prisoners of war and captive Armenian civilians, and that Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh forces tortured Azerbaijani prisoners of war, executed wounded combatants and mutilated the bodies of dead Azerbaijani soldiers,” said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director.
“Unless the perpetrators are brought to justice, grievances will continue to fester and there will be no peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
To research the report, IPHR/Truth Hounds conducted four separate field missions to Azerbaijan and Armenia between October to December 2020 to interview witnesses in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. They visited and documented dozens of bomb impact sites across the conflict region, conducted open source investigations and analysed satellite imagery.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, while the United States, France and Russia committed to securing peace in Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the ‘Minsk Group’, during the first war over the region from 1988 to 1994.
“Ignoring the atrocities detailed in our report would give European Partnership countries carte blanche to wage war without respecting the Geneva Conventions,” Dufour said.
“The Minsk Group, working with the EU, should establish an independent body to investigate and bring those responsible for war crimes to justice through the appropriate international mechanisms.”
In one incident, Azerbaijani security forces stripped an Armenian prisoner of war naked and beat him with truncheons, before taking him to a cell inside the Azerbaijani State Security Service. Officers interrogated him, electrocuted him with a Taser, whipped him with electric cables and choked him with a plastic bag over his head.
More than 5,000 people were killed during the six-week conflict and at least another 100,000 displaced. Azerbaijan’s armed forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure, including Armenian hospitals and places of religious or cultural significance. The report presents evidence that both sides shelled civilian settlements indiscriminately.
In one attack on Ganja city, Azerbaijan, three ‘SCUD’ missiles hit a residential area, killing 13 civilians and injuring another 53. Ali and his wife were watching television when the missiles struck. When he ran outside he saw destruction everywhere and a torn limb hanging from a post. His children had cuts all over their arms and legs, and his pregnant daughter was taken to hospital where she gave birth prematurely.
“The report concludes that the armed forces on both sides deliberately and indiscriminately fired on civilians with heavy artillery or air support, sometimes killing or wounding whole families”, said Roman Avramenko, Truth Hounds Director.
“The international community cannot let this pass without sanction, for it would render the laws of war meaningless”.