Armenian Legal Center Calls on Rights Groups to Include Azerbaijani War Crimes in Annual Reports

Atrocities from Four-Day April War in Artsakh Should Not Be Ignored
Atrocities from Four-Day April War in Artsakh Should Not Be Ignored

Atrocities from Four-Day April War in Artsakh Should Not Be Ignored

Atrocities from Four-Day April War in Artsakh Should Not Be Ignored

WASHINGTONConcerned by the silence of the human rights community over the grave war crimes and atrocities committed during Azerbaijan’s attacks against the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) in April 2016, the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights (ALC) has called on Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to detail these crimes in their annual reports.

In its March 13, 2017, letters to the two leading human rights groups, ALC noted the glaring omission of credible information about the beheadings of soldiers and the murder and mutilation of civilians in Artsakh during the April 2016, 4-day war.

“Considering the impact of grave abuses, such as a standing army’s beheading of enemy soldiers and mutilation and murder of civilians in their home, clearly has upon respect for human rights in general, we believe these atrocities should not have been ignored, especially considering the documentary photographs, video, and testimony surrounding these reports,” explained Kate Nahapetian, Executive Director of the ALC.

The complete texts of the letters are provided below.

The Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights (ALC) fights to redress human rights violations emanating from the Armenian Genocide that continue to this day and undermine stability in a region that has for far too long been marred by policies founded on genocide, not human rights and justice.  ALC promotes scholarship on the legal avenues for addressing the challenges emanating from the Armenian Genocide, in addition to pursuing cases in national and international courts, while promoting the protection of Armenian cultural heritage through the return of stolen properties and artifacts.

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March 13, 2017

Denis Krivosheev
Deputy Director Research
Europe and Central Asia Regional Office
Amnesty International
London
United Kingdom

Via Email

Dear Mr. Krivosheev,

We are writing, as admirers of Amnesty’s work, to express our serious concern regarding Amnesty International’s (AI) omission of Azerbaijan’s well-documented April 2016 war crimes in Karabakh in its newly-released World Report 2016/17.  The lack of any mention of documented cases of beheadings, mutilation of soldiers’ bodies, and the murder and mutilation of civilians, all in the span of just four days, is glaring.

The Amnesty International report, published on February 22, 2017, mentions the “Four days of armed clashes between [Azerbaijani] government forces and the forces of the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh,” citing official reports of casualties (“Azerbaijan reported the deaths of six civilians and 31 military personnel; the Armenian Ministry of Defence reported 93 persons killed on its side, including four civilians,”) and blaming both sides for targeting “civilian properties, including schools.”  The Amnesty report fails to note, however, that while both sides blamed each other for targeting civilians, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister was the only one to publicly declare its preparation to commit war crimes and target a capital city full of civilians and third parties such as the Secretary General of the Organization of American States condemned Azerbaijan for its ceasefire violation.

In addition, the report makes no mention of the worst human rights violations of the April 2016 Four Day War – the murder of elderly civilians in their home, who had their ears cut off and the mutilation or torture of all 18 soldiers that were returned from Azerbaijan in the presence of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

On April 2, 2016, Global Investigative Journalism Network member organization HETQ broke the news of war crimes in the town of Talish, parts of which had been briefly captured by Azerbaijani forces, by publishing the photographs of executed and mutilated elderly Armenian civilians. One photograph showed the bodies of husband and wife Valera and Razmela Khalapyan, whose ears had been cut off.

Azerbaijan’s ISIS-like treatment of Armenian civilians reported by HETQ was verified by the Artsakh’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s office in an in-depth report that also detailed war crimes against soldiers. The report included photographs of uniformed Azerbaijani soldiers who had posed with the severed head of Yezidi-Armenian soldier Kyaram Sloyan in photos and videos. (The soldier who held beheaded Sloyan by the ears in one of the photos was later reportedly decorated with a medal by the President of Azerbaijan.)

On July 1, 2016, the US Government-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE) station Azatutyun cited official reports of two other beheaded Armenian soldiers and over one dozen mutilated bodies: “[Karabakh prosecutors] claimed that one of them, the 31-year-old Major Hayk Torosian, was still alive when his Azerbaijani captors began cutting off his head.”

We understand that Amnesty International was not able to conduct an on-the-ground investigation into these reports, but Amnesty does regularly include credible information that it has not independently verified in its official reports.  In the case of Mr. Sloyan, there is brutal video footage of his severed head on more than one occasion and the gruesome reality that, as RFE reported, Azerbaijan delivered his head after delivering his body, establishing the beheading occurred while in Azerbaijani custody.  

Considering the impact of grave abuses, such as a standing army’s beheading of enemy soldiers and mutilation and murder of civilians in their home, clearly has upon respect for human rights in general, we believe these atrocities should not have been ignored, especially considering the documentary photographs, video, and testimony surrounding these reports.

Knowing of Amnesty’s tradition of objective reporting, we ask you to keep in mind that Azerbaijan’s increasingly aggressive regime is pushing, through a well-funded PR effort, a false narrative of artificial even-handedness that would have international mediators, human rights groups, and other stakeholders assign equal blame in situations of uneven culpability.

We hope that Amnesty International will correct these omissions in its report, and stand ready to meet to offer additional information.  We hope we can set a time to discuss these issues in more detail at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Kate Nahapetian
Executive Director
Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights

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March 13, 2017

Hugh Williamson
Director
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave., 34th Floor
New York, NY  10118

Via Email

Dear Mr. Williamson,

We are writing, as admirers of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) work, to express our serious concern regarding HRW’s omission of Azerbaijan’s well-documented April 2016 war crimes in Karabakh in its World Report 2017: Events of 2016.  The lack of any mention of documented cases of beheadings, mutilation of soldiers’ bodies, and the murder and mutilation of civilians, all in the span of just four days, is glaring.

On April 2, 2016, Global Investigative Journalism Network member organization HETQ broke the news of war crimes in the town of Talish, parts of which had been briefly captured by Azerbaijani forces, by publishing the photographs of executed and mutilated elderly Armenian civilians. One photograph showed the bodies of husband and wife Valera and Razmela Khalapyan, whose ears had been cut off.

Azerbaijan’s ISIS-like treatment of Armenian civilians reported by HETQ was verified by the Artsakh’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s office in an in-depth report that also detailed war crimes against soldiers. The report included photographs of uniformed Azerbaijani soldiers who had posed with the severed head of Yezidi-Armenian soldier Kyaram Sloyan in photos and videos. (The soldier who held beheaded Sloyan by the ears in one of the photos was later reportedly decorated with a medal by the President of Azerbaijan.)  The Karabakh government reported that all 18 soldiers that were returned from Azerbaijan in the presence of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross showed signs of either mutilation or torture.

On July 1, 2016, the US Government-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE) station Azatutyun cited official reports of two other beheaded Armenian soldiers and over one dozen mutilated bodies: “[Karabakh prosecutors] claimed that one of them, the 31-year-old Major Hayk Torosian, was still alive when his Azerbaijani captors began cutting off his head.”

We understand that HRW was not able to conduct an on-the-ground investigation into these reports, but we do think the credible nature and documentation of these reports merited inclusion in its report, which does include information that it has not independently verified in other instances.  In the case of Mr. Sloyan, there is brutal video footage of his severed head on more than one occasion and the gruesome reality that, as RFE reported, Azerbaijan delivered his head after delivering his body, establishing the beheading occurred while in Azerbaijani custody.

Moreover, although all sides in the conflict blame each other for targeting civilians, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister was the only one to publicly declare its preparation to commit war crimes and target a capital city full of civilians and third parties such as the Secretary General of the Organization of American States condemned Azerbaijan for its ceasefire violation. 

Considering the impact of grave abuses, such as a standing army’s beheading of enemy soldiers and mutilation and murder of civilians in their home, clearly has upon respect for human rights in general, we believe these atrocities should not have been ignored, especially considering the documentary photographs, video, and testimony surrounding these reports.

We hope that HRW will correct these omissions in its report, and stand ready to meet to offer additional information.  We hope we can set a time to discuss these issues in more detail at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Kate Nahapetian
Executive Director
Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights

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