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Open Letter to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)

Open Letter to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)

Request to move the UEFA EURO 2020 quarterfinals from Baku unless Azerbaijan releases all Armenian POWs

June 23, 2021

To: Aleksander Čeferin,

President, Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)

We are writing to urge the UEFA Executive Committee to make its participation in the quarter finals of the EURO 2020 games, scheduled to take place in Baku on July 3rd, contingent on Azerbaijan’s release of illegally held Armenian hostages and POWs.

The authoritarian government of Azerbaijan, led by President Ilhan Aliyev, has been involved in blatant atrocities, human rights abuses, and political repression at home and abroad. It has committed a myriad of human rights abuses against dissenting Azerbaijani citizens as well as ethnic and other minorities living within Azerbaijan’s borders. It has also carried out ethnic cleansing of, and war crimes against, the indigenous Armenian population of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh).

On September 27th, 2020, as it was preparing to host the EURO 2020 games, Azerbaijan launched an illegal war against the Republic of Artsakh. The attack included active Turkish participation with heavy weaponry including aircraft and attack drones as well as the recruitment of thousands of jihadist mercenaries from Syria. Azerbaijan has continued its military aggression after the November 9 ceasefire statement that was supposed to end the war. Furthermore, in the spring of 2021, Azerbaijan invaded and now occupies parts of the Republic of Armenia, in violation of the basic norms of international law, and has kidnapped Armenians from the Republic in this period.

Azerbaijani aggression cost the lives of over 7,000 on both sides and displaced upwards of 90,000 Armenians. Although the war ended on November 9, 2020, Azerbaijan continues to hold more than 200 Armenian prisoners of war (POWs), in direct violation of the tripartite ceasefire statement explicitly stipulating their release. What is worse, captives are held in deplorable conditions and tortured; ample evidence documents violent, including lethal, abuses of captives. In fact, a recent report by Human Rights Watch has confirmed the extrajudicial torture and subsequent murder of 19 of them; 12 of the 19 murdered were civilian non-combatants and, of these, 4 were women.

As recently as June 16, 2021, a sham trial of 14 Armenian prisoners of war was launched in a Baku court, a few kilometers away from the Olympic Stadium where the EURO 2020 quarterfinals is scheduled to take place.

Adding to this horror, in the immediate vicinity of the same Olympic Stadium, a state-sanctioned military trophy park named the “Garden of Glory” was recently opened, which exhibits macabre, wax effigies of Armenian soldiers being killed. Children are routinely brought to this site to celebrate the horrific deaths of Armenians depicted in the park, which illustrates the depth and systematic nature of the hateful anti-Armenian racism promoted by the government of Azerbaijan.

Here’s how Emin Huseynov, an Azeri journalist exiled to Switzerland, described the Trophy Park: “They exhibited helmets of young enemy soldiers killed in action. It's barbaric, worthy of Native American scalps. There are also mannequins of Armenians with big noses, like the caricatures of Jews under Hitler. The host country of a European sports competition must respect and comply with all human rights values. That country cannot promote hate speech and xenophobia.”

In a recent letter to the President of Azerbaijan, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, also expressed concern at the recent inauguration of this Trophy Park, stating: “I consider such images highly disturbing and humiliating,” and that “this kind of display can only further intensify and strengthen long-standing hostile sentiments and hate speech, and multiply and promote manifestations of intolerance.”

We hope you will recognize that holding the quarterfinal game in Azerbaijan will join the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as one of the most shameful events in sports history.  We are certain that no world-class footballers or fans wish to engage in this game while in the same country civilian captives and POWs are abused and killed, just as World Cup teams played on and fans cheered as victims of Argentina’s junta tortured and killed them across the country in 1978.

The authoritarian regime in Baku will be using this high profile quarter finals to conceal its dismal human rights record and to cover up the recent crimes it committed, and continues to commit, against the indigenous population of Artsakh and Armenia. In the words of Emin Huseinov, "by organizing three matches of the EURO 2020, Azerbaijan wants to redeem an image. At first glance, it is a liberal and open country. But it is a dictatorship that locks up more than 150 political prisoners, a dictatorship that has blood on its hands and has caused an unnecessary war against Armenia.”

By agreeing to participate in these Baku-based quarterfinals, the UEFA Executive Committee risks becoming complicit in these ongoing violations of human rights and the active disinformation campaign and whitewashing that accompanies them.

This complicity would directly contradict UEFA’s own stated human rights commitments:

“UEFA is committed to supporting and safeguarding human rights, with special focus on the potential impact of its major competitions...”

“Leading by example in its commitment to respect human rights, UEFA hopes to set a standard that will trickle down through national football associations, ensuring that human rights are protected at every level of the game...”

Taking into account the human rights record of the host country and UEFA’s unambiguous public statements about its commitment to human rights, we respectfully request that, the UEFA Executive Committee demand that, if the illegally-held Armenian civilian hostages and POWs are not released, the quarterfinal game scheduled for Baku be moved to another host country with a tradition of promoting and protecting human rights and dignity rather than one of human rights abuse and military aggression.

UEFA cannot possibly allow a EURO 2020 quarterfinal game to proceed in Baku while prisoners of war and civilian detainees are being subjected to sham trials, or worse, are being tortured and killed in the same city.

For more information, please consult the following links:


Global Network to Free Armenian POWs

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