The International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), based at the USC Gould School of Law, has joined with a number of institutional partners and professors to request that the U.S. Congress hold Azerbaijan accountable for its grave human rights violations committed during and after its September 2020 attacks on the Nagorno-Karabakh region and Armenia. The Clinic is concerned that continued U.S. military aid has, and will continue to, further embolden Azerbaijan’s alarming behavior. The Clinic requests that further aid be halted immediately, and that Section 907 be amended to add a requirement into the President’s waiver authority to ensure that no funds may be provided to the Government of Azerbaijan unless and until the President certifies to Congress that any security assistance to Azerbaijan is not being used, and will not be used, for offensive purposes against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
During the 44-day war in the fall of 2020, Azerbaijan targeted civilians, intentionally destroyed cultural heritage sites, captured and tortured prisoners of war (POWs), and promoted anti-Armenian hatred and dehumanization on a state level. Notwithstanding these grave human rights violations, the behavior of the Azerbaijani government and military that continues today is particularly alarming, nearly six months after the signing of the November 10 ceasefire agreement. Azerbaijan continues to hold hundreds of Armenians captive, at least sixty-two of whom were captured a month after the ceasefire, in violation of international humanitarian law. Many of these POWs have been tortured while in custody, which has been captured on video and widely disseminated on social media.
Most recently, in April 2021, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev opened a “Military Trophy Park” in Baku, an exhibit which includes an arch made from the helmets of killed and captured Armenian soldiers, as well as caricatured mannequins of bleeding, dying, and captured Armenian soldiers. The creation of this “park,” dehumanization of Armenian soldiers, and the celebration of Armenian death and suffering is an example of a decades-long governmental policy of inciting Armenophobia and anti-Armenian hatred in Azerbaijan. It is in this environment that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces have found it acceptable to torture and dehumanize ethnic Armenian soldiers and civilians.
These acts, in combination with State-sponsored genocidal rhetoric, are especially concerning given the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments’ continued denial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Given that this genocide was recognized by Congress in 2019 and by President Biden in 2021, the U.S. must now recognize and concretely address the gravity of the recent situation as both Turkish President Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev echo the genocidal language of a century ago. The U.S. has the power to take action through a number of different avenues, including by halting military aid to Azerbaijan, considering targeted sanctions against all perpetrators of war crimes on all sides of the armed conflict, and exerting pressure on Azerbaijan to release POWs, work towards a peaceful resolution, and bring its Armenophobic policies to an end.
The U.S. should immediately take action by amending Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which is not being enforced as Congress intended. Section 907 restricts U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan; while the President has the authority to waive this restriction if he determines that doing so “will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia,” the waiver has continuously been extended since 2002. Most recently, the President’s waiving of Section 907 in April 2021 in spite of Azerbaijan’s recent and continued offensive use of force against both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh further demonstrates that the terms under which Azerbaijan may benefit from U.S. security assistance must become stricter. Congressional oversight over the President’s waiver authority under the FREEDOM Support Act should be strengthened, and the U.S. must do everything in its power to address the renewed violence in the region, hold the perpetrators accountable, and protect the region’s population from further mass atrocities.
The full text of the letter can be found here.