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ANCA Policy Brief: Support FY23 NDAA Amendment #698

Call on Azerbaijan to Return Armenian POWs

Legislative Request:

The U.S. House should pass FY23 NDAA Amendment #698 (Schiff – bipartisan) – drawn from the text of H.Res.240, a bipartisan measure calling on Azerbaijan to honor its international commitments by immediately and unconditionally returning illegally held Armenian prisoners of war (POWs).

Key Facts:

Azerbaijan – in violation on its own commitments under international law (including the Third Geneva Convention) – continues to illegally hold and abuse Armenian POWs, nearly two years after the end of Baku’s September 2020 attack on Artsakh.

What’s at Stake:

The lives of more than 140+ Armenian POWs who have been illegally held for almost two years by Azerbaijan.

Prospects for a durable and democratic peace based upon respect for fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.

Why it Matters:

Azerbaijan’s brazen violation of international law sets a dangerous precedent for other countries to illegally hold POWs – putting all soldiers, including American forces, at greater risk of being held as hostages or used as bargaining chips.

Key Points:

— The U.S. should not send a single U.S. tax dollar in military aid to Azerbaijan as long as it illegally holds and abuses Armenian POWs.

— The government of Azerbaijan intentionally misrepresents the status of Armenian POWs as “detainees” in an attempt to justify their continued captivity and deny them the protections they are due under international law.

Azerbaijan’s decision to illegally hold Armenian POWs calls into serious question their commitment to even the most basic human rights and humanitarian principles.

— Human Rights Watch reported in December 2020 that Azerbaijani military forces had mistreated ethnic Armenian prisoners of war and subjected them to “physical abuse and humiliation”;

— Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights issued a report on the conflict that “document[s] crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed by Azerbaijani armed forces and Turkish-backed Islamist fighters against Armenians”, including beheadings, summary executions, and the desecration of human remains.

The Big Picture:

Universal respect for the rights of POWs is a global priority – long championed by the United States – that provides protections for American soldiers and allied forces around the world.


The November 9, 2020 statement ending active hostilities committed Armenia and Azerbaijan to “exchange of prisoners of war, hostages and other detainees as well as the remains of fatalities.” In the wake of this statement, Armenia released all Azerbaijani POWs. Azerbaijan refused to return the over 400 Armenian POWs it held at the cessation of fighting, and still holds – and reportedly abuses – approximately over 140 Armenian POWs.

The Third Geneva Convention, of which Azerbaijan is a signatory, and customary international law require the release of prisoners of war and captured civilians upon the cessation of hostilities and require that all detainees be treated humanely.

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