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 Program Resume - Protection Activities in Azerbaijan (ICRC)

 Duration: 01.01.1998 - present
 Location: Baku
 Sectors: Repatriation


The ICRC's protection activities in Azerbaijan focus on two traditional ICRC fields - protection activities related with the conflict (work on behalf of prisoners and on behalf of the families of missing persons) and visits to people deprived of their freedom.


Prisoners of war

In Azerbaijan, the ICRC Protection team has been visiting people who are detained in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict since 1992. The aims and procedures of these visits are those used by the ICRC world-wide. By registering prisoners and repeating the visits the ICRC monitors their situation until the day of their release, and assesses how prisoners are treated and in what conditions they are kept. In order to get a full picture of the situation, delegates talk to the prisoners in private, as well as visit the premises and discuss problems with the authorities in charge of the place of detention. The delegates make confidential reports on their findings to the detaining authorities on all levels.

Very importantly, the ICRC offers the prisoners it visits the opportunity to write messages, known as "Red Cross Messages" to their families. Designed exclusively for exchanging personal greetings and family news, these Messages provide vital moral support for persons in prison and are the only means of keeping in touch with their families. ICRC delegates based in Erevan and Khankendi/Stepanakert also visit people detained in relation with the conflict, on the basis of the same standard modalities, in close co-ordination with the Baku delegation regarding the transmission of the Red Cross Messages of the prisoners. If a prisoner himself should so choose, the ICRC will inform the authorities of his country of origin that he is being visited by the ICRC. In order to fully discharge its mandate of protecting prisoners, it is important that the ICRC is notified and allowed to visit all persons detained in relation with the conflict as soon as possible after their arrest.

When the relevant authorities reach a decision to release one or more prisoners, the ICRC, on request, supports the authorities in the practical arrangements necessary to repatriate these people. The ICRC has been involved in the repatriation of more than 390 persons since the start of its work in the Southern Caucasus. However, before agreeing to assist in a repatriation, the ICRC always ensures by means of a private interview with the person concerned that he or she wishes to be sent home.


Families of members of the armed forces or civilians who have gone missing in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict have been approaching the ICRC in Azerbaijan since 1992. Based on the details given by the families, the ICRC can approach the authorities of all parties to the conflict with a request to clarify the fate of these persons. International Humanitarian Law (IHL) obliges parties to a conflict to search for persons reported missing by an adverse party. The main role of the ICRC is the transmission of information on such persons to the parties. To this end the ICRC has made individual and collective interventions to all parties involved in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict regarding several thousand persons.

Meanwhile, the ICRC continues to accept tracing requests from relatives of missing persons, and to meet with those families who have already submitted requests. ICRC delegates also meet with people who may be able to give eyewitness information regarding the fate of missing persons.

Sadly, some people may receive the news that their missing family member has deceased. On the agreement of the parties involved and at the In particular, in June 1997 the names of 2,300 persons of both Azeri and Armenian origin whose families had approached ICRC delegations were submitted to all parties to the conflict, with a request to provide information on the fate of these persons for their families. Unfortunately, there has been no concrete reaction to this demarche and the vast majority of these families still have no news of their loved ones. The ICRC is of the opinion that significant progress in this humanitarian issue can only be made if the parties to the conflict will co-ordinate their efforts to clarify the fate of these persons. The ICRC stands ready to offer its assistance in such endeavours. To this end, it has again in August 2000, suggested a global and humanitarian mechanism between the parties.

request of the family, the ICRC has, on request, provided logistic support in the repatriation of mortal remains. While reminding all parties of their obligations in view of the universally recognized right of families to know the fate of their relatives, the ICRC pledges its firm commitment to this task and its solidarity with the families. It will continue its efforts to help trace persons unaccounted for and it appeals to all authorities to assume their responsibilities in this matter.


The ICRC also offers its Red Cross Message service to families split up due to the conflict, who have no other means of communication owing to the breakdown of postal services. The ICRC has also organised family reunions for such families in very exceptional circumstances.

The delegation of the ICRC in Azerbaijan provides support to the Tracing Service of the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society, which strives to re-establish family links for cases not connected to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict.


On 1 June 2000, an Agreement granting the ICRC access to all places of detention and to all people deprived of their freedom was signed by the Minister of Justice on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan and by the Head of Delegation of ICRC in Baku. On 9 June 2000, this Agreement was ratified by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The first visit to a prison in accordance with standard ICRC working procedures started on Friday 23 June 2000.

The character of the ICRC's visits to persons deprived of their freedom is exclusively humanitarian. During its periodic visits to places of detention and to detainees, the ICRC examines the conditions of detention and the treatment of the persons visited. To guarantee the effectiveness and credibility of such visits, its delegates have access to all places of detention and all premises in each place of detention and to all detainees, and may converse freely and privately with the detainees of their choice. The ICRC regularly submits, on a strictly confidential basis, reports and recommendations to the competent authorities.

October 2000

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