Azerbaijan arrests soldiers suspected of war crimes

Four servicemen accused of defiling Armenian bodies and vandalising gravestones during the recent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

A still image from a video released by Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry shows military vehicles driving along a road as Azerbaijan army units enter the Agdam region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 20, 2020 [Defence Ministry of Azerbaijan/Handout via Reuters]

Azerbaijan has arrested four soldiers suspected of involvement in war crimes, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan announced on Monday.

The servicemen are accused of defiling the bodies of Armenian soldiers, inhumanely mistreating Armenian troops, and defacing gravestones belonging to Armenians.

The move comes weeks after Baku and Yerevan signed a peace deal to end more than one month of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict that left 5,600 people dead on both sides – among them scores of civilians.

The prosecutor’s office, in a statement, described the soldiers’ “illegal” acts as “regrettable”, warning that anyone else suspected of similar war crimes would face similar legal action.

Earlier, several videos had been shared on social media of Azerbaijani servicemen mistreating Armenian soldiers and attempting to destroy graves.

There was “ground for suspicion” that some soldiers destroyed Armenian gravestones, the statement said, in a cemetery in Madatli village of the Khojavend district.

“[They] recorded their actions on a smartphone and sent them to other people through social networks,” the statement said.

The arrests come after Human Rights Watch on December 2 called on Baku to investigate alleged war crimes.

“There are serious grounds for concern about their safety and well-being,” said the rights group, commenting on the Armenian victims.

“International humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, requires parties to an international armed conflict to treat [prisoners of war] humanely in all circumstances. The third Geneva Convention protects POWs ‘particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity’.”

Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused one another of war crimes during the recent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians.

Both sides were also accused of using powerful cluster munitions in the war, and Azerbaijan says Armenia targeted its civilian areas.

Because of their power, more than 100 countries have banned cluster munitions, though Armenia and Azerbaijan have not.

The November 10 peace deal brokered by Russia was seen as favouring Baku, and Azerbaijan has since reclaimed some territory from ethnic Armenians.

However, on Sunday, there were reports that the ceasefire deal had been broken, with fighting between the rivals back under way.

Source: Al Jazeera