Washington D.C. - Today, the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and David G. Valadao (R-CA) introduced a resolution calling on Azerbaijan to immediately release all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians currently detained in the aftermath of the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh. The resolution was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 31 Members.
Public reports indicate that as many as 200 Armenian detainees remain in Azerbaijani custody. Under the Geneva Conventions and the November 9, 2020 tripartite statement signed by Armenia, Russia, and Azerbaijan, all parties have an obligation to release prisoners. Armenia has fulfilled this obligation, while the Government of Azerbaijan continues to misrepresent the status of these POWs in an attempt to justify their continued captivity. The resolution also calls on the U.S. State Department to engage with Azerbaijani authorities, including through the OSCE Minsk Group, to demand the immediate release of POWs and captured civilians.
“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.”
“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.”
“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,” said Rep. Bilirakis.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“This important human rights legislation sends a powerful message and echoes the concern of so many across the country that Azerbaijan must immediate release all Armenian POWs and civilians held captive,” said Armenian Assembly of America executive director Bryan Ardouny. “We commend Chairman Schiff and the Armenian Caucus leadership for the timely introduction of this bipartisan legislation and urge its passage.”
The text of the resolution introduced by Schiff, Valadao, Pallone, Bilirakis and Speier can be found here.