Amnesty International human rights organization has released a report on international humanitarian law violations against the elderly Armenian civilian population, including war crimes, during the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. The report says that more than half of the killed Armenian civilians are over 60 years old, and the oldest was 89 years old.
International law violations and war crimes
According to the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s Human Rights Ombudsman, at least 48 elderly civilians were killed during the fighting of 2020. This is more than half of the documented civilian deaths. At least 30 elderly people were killed by Azerbaijani forces after seizing control of villages and settlements. They all were reportedly civilians, and did not have weapons on them when they were killed or detained.
Amnesty International has been able to verify many of these cases based on testimonies from witnesses and relatives of victims, as well as death certificates, official forensic examinations conducted in Armenia, and videos posted on social media. Many of the killings were carried out by beheading or long-range shooting, it is reported. In some cases, torture or other ill-treatment, as well as mutilation of bodies, preceded the murder.
The report notes that many of the actions of the Azerbaijani military – extrajudicial executions, torture, mutilation and attacks on civilians – violate Azerbaijan’s international human rights obligations and are considered war crimes.
Azerbaijan is a party to key human rights treaties that protect the right to life, prohibit torture and other ill-treatment, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
All the basic guarantees and other rules of international humanitarian law are legally binding on all parties to an armed conflict. For this reason, Azerbaijan also has obligations under international humanitarian law to treat humanely civilians, as well as soldiers from opposite side, who are wounded, surrendered, or captured. It is prohibited to kill, torture, mistreat, and disable those people.
In the event of an armed conflict, international law provides for the evacuation of the elderly and the disabled, as well as for the prioritization of special care in places of detention. However, the documents obtained in the report show that the Azerbaijani side has targeted the elderly by committing serious violations and crimes. In general, Azerbaijan’s military operations have disproportionately affected the elderly.
Relevant serious violations and war crimes documented in this report include:
- torture or ill-treatment,
- intentional harm to body or health.
- illegal arrest.
The document emphasizes that Azerbaijan and Armenia should investigate war crimes committed by the military and, if necessary, prosecute suspects.