Deputy Chairman of the the European Court of Human Rights Josep Casadevall after today's verdict. Photo: PAP/Wiktor Dabkowski
According to the court, Monday, the adequacy of Russia's investigation, which lasted between 1990 and 2004, cannot be assessed as the European Convention on Human Rights only came into force in Russia in 1998, eight years after the Katyn investigation began in Moscow.
The decision by the ‘Grand Chamber’ of judges upholds a similar ruling made in April 2012 in Strasbourg after it was appealed by families of the dead Polish officers.
Of the 17-member court, 13 of the 17 judges insisted that the Court has no competence to examine the complaint, which pertains to Article 2 of the Convention.
The court also overturned a previous ruling that defendants had suffered “inhumane treatment” at the hands of Russian authorities while trying to seek justice for their murdered relatives, under pertaining up Article 3 of the Convention.
However, the court did rule unanimously that Russia had failed to fully cooperate with the Strasbourg court.
The four judges who argued against the majority vote regarding Article 2 and 3 of the convention stated they are “convinced” that the court should have “distinguished this case from previous cases.”
“The case is about an undeniable obligation to investigate and prosecute gross human rights and humanitarian law violations which under international law are not subject to statutory limitations,” the judges ruled.
“The mass killing of the Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet authorities are war crimes. It is evident that in this case the Court was called upon to identify the relationship between the Convention and one of the most important obligations in international law.”
Fifteen relatives of executed Poles were represented in Strasbourg, supported by the Polish government and several human rights organisations.
What is known as the 'Katyn massacre' encompasses the mass murder by Stalin's secret police (NKVD) carried out in the spring of 1940 at several points across the former Soviet Union, including the Katyn Forest near Smolensk.
Moscow did not admit responsibility for the crime until 1990: until then, the murders had been blamed on Nazi Germany.
Nobody has ever been tried for the crime, neither have the victims been formally rehabilitated by a Russian court.
The process of rehabilitation is normally applied to those unjustly sentenced in court, and it would clear the victims of any stain on their honour under Russian law. (nh/pg)