Ethnic Armenian troops captured in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh fighting have been treated inhumanely on many occasions by Azerbaijani forces, being subjected to physical abuse and humiliation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report.
Videos widely circulated on social media depict Azerbaijani captors variously slapping, kicking, and prodding Armenian prisoners of war (POWs), HRW says.
In the videos, Armenian POWs are forced, under obvious duress and with the apparent intent to humiliate, to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, praise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, swear at Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, and declare that the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan.
HRW closely examined 14 out of dozens of video recordings that show alleged abuse of Armenian POWs and were posted to social media. It also spoke with the families of five POWs whose abuse was depicted. The videos were posted to Telegram channels, including Kolorit 18+ and Karabah_News, and to several Instagram accounts.
Although international humanitarian law and legislation regulating armed conflict require involved parties to treat POWs humanely in all circumstances, in most of the videos, the captors' faces are visible, implying that they did not fear being held accountable, the New York-based watchdog said in its December 2 report.
The third Geneva Convention protects POWs "particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity."
"There can be no justification for the violent and humiliating treatment of prisoners of war," said Hugh Williamson, HRW's Europe and Central Asia director.
"Humanitarian law is absolutely clear on the obligation to protect POWs. Azerbaijan's authorities should ensure that this treatment ends immediately."
While the precise numbers are not known, Armenian officials told HRW that Azerbaijan holds "dozens" of Armenian POWs.
HRW said in its report that Armenia also holds a number of Azerbaijani POWs and "at least three foreign mercenaries."
HRW is investigating videos alleging abuse of Azerbaijani POWs that have circulated on social media and will report on any findings.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule.
They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and ethnic Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.
Fighting broke out again in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27, leaving thousands of soldiers and civilians dead on both sides over the ensuing weeks. Azerbaijan has not provided a figure for its military casualties.
Fighting ended on November 10 with a Russia-negotiated truce.