Armenia on Friday accused Azerbaijan of committing war crimes during their conflict last year over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, after Human Rights Watch said Azerbaijan had mistreated prisoners of war.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus countries had been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the mountainous region in Azerbaijan, where fighting erupted in September, claiming the lives of some 6,000 people.
The six-week war ended after Azerbaijan made swift gains and Armenian capitulated to a Russian-brokered ceasefire under which it ceded swathes of territories to Baku.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in report Friday that Azerbaijani troops “abused Armenian prisoners of war…, subjecting them to cruel and degrading treatment and torture.”
“Azerbaijan should also immediately release all remaining POWs and civilian detainees,” the advocacy group said.
Armenian foreign ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan said the report proved that Baku committed “large-scale war crimes against Armenian prisoners of war”.
“The reports of ill-treatment and torture of Armenian POWs indicate systematic nature. Their continued captivity and torture may amount to crimes against humanity,” Naghdalyan told AFP.
Baku has denied the accusations, and insisted that all the Armenian prisoners were returned to Armenia.
But Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said Wednesday that “Baku doesn’t consider Armenian troops detained in Karabakh after ceasefire as prisoners of war”.
He earlier accused Armenian forces of “grave violations of international humanitarian law tantamount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Amnesty International in December urged both Baku and Yerevan to urgently probe “war crimes” committed by both sides.
While Armenia has not opened any investigations, Azerbaijan charged two of its soldiers in December for mutilating bodies of Armenian soldiers.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian region that broke from Azerbaijan’s control during a war in the early 1990s.
Armenia’s defeat to Baku’s technologically superior army last year spurred a political crisis with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan agreeing this week to snap elections later this year.
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