Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has facilitated the handover of bodies of combatants killed in action during the recent escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Today's operation took place following an agreement between the sides. The remains were transferred across the international border from Azerbaijan to Armenia. The ICRC took part in the humanitarian operation as a neutral intermediary.
In addition, the agreement included the transfer of two civilians held in relation to the conflict. With assistance from the ICRC, an elderly woman was transferred from Azerbaijan to Armenia via Georgia yesterday. A second civilian, an elderly man, was deemed unfit to travel for the time being.
"Even in the deadliest of conflicts the ICRC, with our long-standing record as a neutral intermediary, sees how shared humanitarian objectives can help parties find common ground, whether through the transfer or return of prisoners, the evacuation of wounded, cross-line humanitarian activities, or the respectful handover of mortal remains," said Martin Schüepp, ICRC Eurasia Regional Director in Geneva.
"The burial of a husband, father or son is essential to help bring closure to the family left behind."
The transfer of bodies took place in coordination with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group and the personal representative of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) chairman-in-office.
Under international humanitarian law, parties to a conflict must endeavor to facilitate the return of the remains of the deceased upon request of the side to which they belong, or their next of kin.
The ICRC's involvement in this operation included assisting with logistical preparations, as well as providing support to the sides on carrying out the operation safely and in accordance with humanitarian principles.
Schüepp added: "Operations like this are hugely important for the families concerned. Without receiving the remains of their loved ones, they live with the pain of loss compounded by the pain of uncertainty. Not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones can be agonising.
"Through this operation, we hope that families will be able to find some closure. They can say goodbye to their loved ones by giving them a dignified burial according to their traditions.\ "The ICRC stands ready to participate in similar operations, as and when the sides agree that they should take place."
Since it started working in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1992, the ICRC has repeatedly helped authorities with such operations. The ICRC will support any similar operations in the future should the need arise and continue to encourage any initiative relating to missing persons.
For further information, please contact:
Zara Amatuni, ICRC delegation, Yerevan, tel: +374 99 011 360
Ilaha Huseynova, ICRC delegation, Baku, tel: +994 50 316 00 24
Eteri Musayelyan, ICRC Nagorno-Karabakh mission, tel: +374 97 29 80 85
Sam Smith, ICRC London, tel: +44 7809 374593