Human rights experts at the United Nations have called for the "prompt" release of prisoners of war and other captives by Armenia and Azerbaijan from their recent conflict in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva said in a statement on February 1 that the two countries should also move quickly to return the bodies of those killed to families for burial "with due respect for cultural customs."
“Everyone deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the conflict should be returned to their homes, and relatives of those killed must be able to receive the mortal remains of their loved ones, in line with the cease-fire agreement signed on November 9, 2020,” the experts said.
“Failure to disclose information on the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and refusal to hand over the remains of the deceased may amount to enforced disappearance, which both Azerbaijan and Armenia have committed to preventing,” they added.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a fierce six-week battle over the region until signing a Moscow-brokered deal to halt the hostilities on November 9.
Under a cease-fire agreement, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenians.
More than 4,700 people were killed in the flare-up of violence and the UN expert group said many are still unaccounted for.
“We are alarmed at allegations that prisoners of war and other protected persons have been subjected to extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment,” the experts said.
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever -- whether a state of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency -- may be invoked as a justification of torture and enforced disappearances,” they said. “Such acts, when perpetrated in armed conflict, may also constitute war crimes.”
The experts added that they were also "seriously alarmed" at reports that corpses were desecrated and called on both sides to "treat dead bodies with dignity."
“We appeal to the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan to carry out thorough, prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations committed during the conflict and its aftermath in order to hold perpetrators to account and provide redress to the victims. These actions will facilitate truth, reconciliation, and healing,” the experts said.