International legal team for Armenian political prisoner Ruben Vardanyan files urgent appeal with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Urgent action complaint against Azerbaijan government’s use of torture and ill-treatment submitted to Dr. Alice Edwards, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Former Artsakh State Minister and political prisoner Ruben Vardanyan (Photo: Vahagn Khachatrian)

GENEVAThe international legal team for Armenian political prisoner Ruben Vardanyan, detained in Azerbaijan, filed an urgent appeal on June 13, 2024 with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr. Alice Edwards, imploring her to condemn the torture and ill-treatment that the Azerbaijan government has perpetrated against him.

 Vardanyan is an influential Armenian business leader, social entrepreneur and philanthropist who also briefly served as Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh’s Minister of State. On September 27, 2023, in the wake of Azerbaijan’s genocidal ethnic cleansing of 120,000 Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, Vardanyan was arrested as he attempted, together with the remaining civilian population, to cross the border into Armenia through the Berdzor/Lachin Corridor. That same day, he was remanded to pretrial detention and he has been detained on baseless alleged criminal charges ever since. In a continuation of Azerbaijan’s campaign of ethnic cleansing, his detention was soon followed by the arrest of other Artsakh leaders.

Disturbingly, Vardanyan’s family and international counsel learned that during his hunger strike in April 2024, Vardanyan was placed in a punishment cell, denied access to drinking water, deprived of sleep, forced to hold stress positions, denied access to his lawyer and held in incommunicado detention. The full extent of the psychological and physical trauma resulting from this treatment is still unknown.

Jared Genser, international counsel to Vardanyan said: “Ruben Vardanyan is an inspiring humanitarian and philanthropist who has been advocating for the human rights of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh for many years. It is extremely revealing that Azerbaijan views him as a threat that must be silenced through arbitrary detention and, more recently, torture and ill-treatment. If Azerbaijan wants to be taken seriously on the international stage — and if it wants COP29 to be the ‘COP for peace’ — then it must stop mistreating Ruben and release him and the other Nagorno-Karabakh political prisoners immediately.”

From April 5-25, 2024, Vardanyan engaged in a hunger strike to protest his politically-motivated prosecution and that of the other Armenian prisoners. In retaliation, the authorities of the Pre-Trial Detention facility of the State Security Service — where he is currently detained — moved him to a punishment cell, which he was never allowed to leave for the duration of the hunger strike. The lights in the cell were kept on around the clock, which lead to severe sleep deprivation and exhaustion. In addition, he was forced to stand for extended periods of time and was deprived of drinking water for over two full days. Moreover, he was not allowed to bathe or change clothes; he was not given any toilet paper; he was not allowed to have any books or paper; and there were no bed sheets (so he had to sleep on a dirty mattress). Of particular concern, neither Vardanyan’s lawyer nor anyone else (including the local ombudsman) was allowed to visit him during the hunger strike, and his communication with the outside world (for example, through phone calls with family) was cut off.

This treatment — intended to punish Vardanyan for engaging in a hunger strike and also for his political service in and advocacy for Artsakh — violates Azerbaijan’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, as well as The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules). Unfortunately, Vardanyan’s mistreatment comes as no surprise — Azerbaijan has a well-documented history of torturing political prisoners generally and ethnic Armenian detainees specifically. Given Vardanyan’s ethnicity, his status as a former high-level official in the government of Artsakh, his outspoken criticism of Azerbaijan’s treatment of Artsakh and its people and his detention at the hands of the State Security Service (which is notorious for the torture of ethnic Armenians), he is at imminent risk of further torture and ill-treatment.

Vardanyan’s son David said: “We were shocked to learn of the horrors that my father has had to endure. It is terrifying to think of what is being done to other less prominent prisoners in Azerbaijan who have not received the international support that my father has. For the sake of all the current political prisoners in Azerbaijan — whether Armenian, Azerbaijani or any other nationality — this inhumane treatment of prisoners must be stopped. We urge the U.N. to hold the Azerbaijan government accountable and to help protect my father’s life.”

Numerous human rights organizations, national governments and international bodies have called for Azerbaijan to release Vardanyan and the other Artsakh political prisoners. Most recently, on June 11, 2024, U.S. Senator Ed Markey called for the prisoners’ release on the Senate floor, specifically noting and condemning Vardanyan’s recent mistreatment.

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