Bi-Partisan Measure Launched with Support of Over 30 U.S. House Members; ANCA Continues Campaign to Rally Support for Speedy Passage
WASHINGTON—More than 30 U.S. Representatives joined House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) in introducing new legislation, led by the Congressional Armenian Caucus leaders, calling on Azerbaijan to immediately release over 200 Armenian prisoners of war and captured civilians, illegally kept hostages over 100 days after the November 9th ceasefire statement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“We welcome Congressional calls for strong, sustained U.S. leadership against Azerbaijan’s aggression and are gratified by the broad bipartisan backing for this call on Baku to immediately and unconditionally release the more than 200 Armenian hostages it continues to illegally hold and openly abuse,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The ANCA shares our thanks with Congressman Schiff and his colleagues in the leadership of the Armenian Caucus for advancing this humanitarian measure.”
The ANCA issued a call to action last week encouraging U.S. House Members to be original cosponsors at the time of the bill’s introduction. Pro-Armenia and human rights advocates can continue to encourage cosponsorship and passage of the measure by visiting anca.org/prisoners.
Members of Congress joining Representative Schiff and Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone Jr.(D-NJ), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and David Valadao (R-CA), as original cosponsors of this bipartisan legislation include Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Judy Chu (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Andy Levin (D-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Katie Porter (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), and Dina Titus (D-NV).
Congressional Armenian Caucus Leaders Cite Importance of U.S. leadership to Secure Azerbaijan’s Release of Armenian POWs
“It is unacceptable that more than 100 days after the end of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, hundreds of Armenian service members and civilians remain in Azerbaijani custody, where little is known of their condition, treatment, or well-being,” said Rep. Schiff. “Azerbaijan has an obligation to release these prisoners immediately – the longer the delay, the more it demonstrates their disregard for human rights and international law. Azerbaijan is already guilty grave atrocities committed during the recent war, and this compounds the problem. The United States must use all diplomatic means to secure the immediate release of these detained POWs and civilians, and to impose consequences on Azerbaijan for their continued violations of human rights.”
Rep. Speier went on to note, “In addition to unlawful detention, we now know that Azerbaijan has subjected those in its custody to violent and humiliating treatment that shocks the conscience,” said Rep. Speier. “In the most extreme cases – as documented by a Human Rights Watch report – Azerbaijan engaged in the extrajudicial execution of captured civilians including 79-year-old Eduard Shahkeldyan, who died of a blunt brain injury while imprisoned in Baku, and Arsen Gharakhanyan, who was shot in the head by his Azeri captors in January. The U.S. must do everything in its power to pressure Azerbaijan to release all prisoners of war and captured civilians to their families, pursuant to the agreement signed over four months ago, and must hold Azerbaijan accountable for its blatant disregard for international law.”
“Reports of inhumane treatment of these prisoners, as well as misrepresentation by Azerbaijani authorities to justify their continued capture, makes clear this is an issue of both human rights and international law,” said Rep. Valadao. “I wholeheartedly condemn Azerbaijan for their failure to uphold the November 9 agreement, and I implore them to return all Armenian captives immediately.”
“The November ceasefire halting the conflict in Artsakh was deeply flawed, but it did include important requirements for all parties to release detained individuals from their custody,” said Rep. Pallone. “While Armenia has upheld their end of this deal, Azerbaijan clearly has not. The Aliyev regime is instead using these people as bargaining chips, refusing to release them or even allow humanitarian access unless all of their demands are met. This resolution sends a strong message that the United States can and must play a key role in helping to solve this issue by putting pressure on Aliyev to release these individuals and halt his continued saber rattling. This will help refocus American efforts in the South Caucasus region and work toward a more peaceful, long-term conclusion to the conflict.”
Rep. Bilirakis concurred, stating, “The continued imprisonment of Armenian prisoners of war months after the termination of hostilities is categorically unacceptable. This is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention and international law. Azerbaijan should cease its human rights’ violations and immediately release the captive soldiers.”
The legislation cites findings that Azerbaijani military forces have mistreated ethnic Armenian prisoners of war and subjected them to “physical abuse and humiliation,” including beheadings, summary executions, and the desecration of human remains.
The measure specifically highlights “significant concern that female detainees in particular could be subject to sexual assaults and other mistreatment,” and asks the State Department to “to engage at all levels with Azerbaijani authorities including through the OSCE Minsk Group process to make clear the importance of adhering to their obligations under the November 9th statement & international law to immediately release all prisoners of war and captured civilians.”
International outcry continues regarding Azerbaijan’s forced imprisonment, torture, and murder of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian captives. On March 12th, Human Rights Watch reported they have “documented several cases in which Azerbaijani forces used violence to detain civilians and subjected them to torture and inhuman and degrading conditions of detention. Two detainees died in Azerbaijani captivity; one of them, based on the evidence, was most likely the victim of an extrajudicial execution. Azerbaijani forces detained these civilians even though there was no evidence that they posed any security threat – they had no weapons and did not participate in the hostilities.”
Siranush Sahakyan, the lawyer representing more than 100 Armenian families of POWs in an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, told The Wall Street Journal las week that “The issue is being politicized. A humanitarian issue is being interlinked with an issue on a political agenda, which is unacceptable. We also know that unjustifiable delays in repatriating POWs is a war crime.”
Sahakyan’s Yerevan-based organization, the International & Comparative Law Center, and the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights teamed up in January to help secure Azerbaijan’s release of the captives. Their efforts and the current plight of the Armenian hostages will be discussed in a Facebook live discussion, on Sunday, March 21 at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST, co-hosted by the ANCA Eastern Region, Armenian Youth Federation Eastern Region, and the Armenian Legal Center. Tune in on Sunday.