Monday, 25 July 2011

Complaints Concerning Katyń Massacre Declared admissible by European Court

The European Court of Human Rights has declared admissible two complaints concerning the criminal investigations in the 1990s into the deaths of 12 Polish men in the context of the Katyń massacre in the former Soviet Union (for the press release, see:
The application, in Janowiec and Others v. Russia (application nos 55508/07 & 29520/09), was brought by 15 of the victims’ relatives.
The 12 men were police and army officers, an army doctor and a primary school headmaster, and were allegedly victims of the Katyń massacre and related killings that took place in early 1940 following the Soviet occupation of parts of eastern Poland.
Investigations concerning the deaths were started by the Russian authorities in 1990, after President Yeltsin admitted that the massacre was attributable to the Soviet Union. Criminal proceedings concerning the 12 men in question were discontinued however, because the men’s bodies were not identified during the latest investigations, even though they were listed as prisoners in the relevant camps at the relevant times.
Katyń was a subject of much debate during the Nuremberg Trial. The mass grave was first discovered by the Nazis after they overran Soviet and Soviet-occupied territory. They carried out an inquiry in 1943, during which some of the bodies of the applicants at the European Court were identified. Later, when the Soviets drove back the Nazi armies, they regained the territory and carried out their own investigation. The reports of both investigations were filed before the International Military Tribunal. In the end, the judgment did not even mention Katyń.
As the press release of the European Court notes, on 26 November 2010 the Russian Duma made a statement about the “Katyń tragedy”, in which it reiterated that the “mass extermination of Polish citizens on USSR territory during the Second World War” had been on Stalin’s orders and that it was necessary to continue “verifying the lists of victims, restoring the good names of those who perished in Katyń and other places, and uncovering the circumstances of the tragedy...".
The Court declared admissible the complaint relying upon the ‘procedural obligation’ contained in article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). The complaint alleges that the Russian authorities failed to carry out an adequate and effective criminal investigation into the circumstances leading to and surrounding the deaths of the relatives of the applicants.
The Court joined to its examination of the merits of the complaint the issue of temporal jurisdiction. The Court will be required to determine whether it can examine the adequacy of an investigation into events which had occurred before Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, indeed before the Convention was even adopted.
The Court also declared admissible the applicants’ complaint that the way the Russian authorities reacted to their requests and applications amounted to ill-treatment under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Convention.

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