Moscow says Armenia has provided incomplete list of prisoners, Yerevan responds
The issue of returning Armenian prisoners from Azerbaijan remains the highest on the Armenian public agenda, but information about how many persons remain detained by the Azerbaijani side since the end of the second Karabakh war remains undisclosed.
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov stated that the Armenian side provided lists of prisoners “not immediately and not [that were] not complete”.
Deputy PM Tigran Avinyan’s office explained that the exact number of the prisoners is confidential and should not be released, “given the hypersensitive nature of the issue.”
However, the lists of confirmed detention of Armenian persons have been constantly updated and presented to partners, as the search parties continue and new information comes in.
The de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh and the ombudsman of Armenia have sent letters to international bodies on the issue of the return of Armenian prisoners from Azerbaijan and the protection of their rights.
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Minister Lavrov said that initially, the Armenian side had struggled to compile accurate lists of people who disappeared and the people they wanted to be released from captivity, and, therefore, these lists were incomplete.
At the same time, Lavrov mentioned that Moscow wants to make every effort possible to “finally resolve the issue of the return of Armenian prisoners”.
Why data on prisoners is not published
“Armenia approaches any issue related to prisoners of war with full responsibility. It refrains from taking any action that can harm the process of the quick and safe repatriation of our compatriots”, the statement of the office of Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan read.
The statement also said that at the moment, as the search parties for the bodies of the deceased servicemen continue, information about the prisoners of war has been provided to partners on a regular basis, and in several stages:
“Moreover, in December, the Russian side and the Red Cross were presented with full lists”, the deputy prime minister’s office said.
Appeals to international authorities
On the issue of the return of Armenian prisoners of war and civilians who are still in Azerbaijan back to their homeland, the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh have sent letters to the specialized bodies of the UN and the Council of Europe, as well as to the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the personal representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office.
“The letters, in particular, note that Azerbaijan violated the November 9 trilateral agreement by attacking and occupying the villages of Khtsaberd and Khin Tager in the Hadrut region of the Republic of Artsakh and taking 64 servicemen prisoner. Subsequently, the Azerbaijani authorities announced their intention to initiate criminal proceedings against the prisoners of war, which is a gross violation of international humanitarian law”, the Foreign Ministry’s website reported.
The letters also say that Azerbaijan is delaying the return of prisoners on purpose. In doing that, Azerbaijan is violating its own obligations under a trilateral ceasefire agreement signed by the heads of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in November 2020.
Armenian Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan presented the same issue to OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office. In his official letters, Ombudsman Tatoyan is not only talking about prisoners of war but also about captured civilians:
“The return of the prisoners was to be ensured immediately after the cessation of hostilities. This is a universal standard, and it should be implemented automatically. Deviation from this course of action violates human rights and international humanitarian law, including the third Geneva Convention of 1949.
Consequently, paragraph 8 of the tripartite agreement [on the exchange of prisoners and other detainees] of November 9, 2020, is autonomous. It should never depend on the fulfilment of other points of the agreement”.
The Azerbaijani side believes that the Armenians captured after November 9 are not prisoners.
Meanwhile, in the opinion of the Armenian Ombudsman, the ceasefire agreement should be applied to all situations that have arisen both before and after this – “as long as there is an objective need to protect human rights, due to military actions.”