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Human Rights court calls 1940 Katyn massacre a 'war crime'

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 16.04.2012 12:37
The European Court of Human Rights said that it cannot rule on Russia's investigation into the 1940 Katyn massacre of over 22,000 Polish officers but calls the murders 'a war crime".

photo - PAP/Radek Pietruszka

“In the case Janowiec and Others v. Russia, the Court found that it could not examine the applicants’ complaint about the ineffective investigation into the Katyń massacre,” the Court in Strasbourg ruled, Monday morning.

But, on a separate charge, the Court ruled that: “Russia had failed to cooperate with the Court, and that its response to most victims’ relatives’ attempts to find out the truth about what happened in 1940 had amounted to inhuman treatment.”

Both Poland and Russia can appeal the ruling, however.

Russian advisor to the Council of Europe Vladislav Yermakov said that Moscow was “satisfied” with the ruling.

“At first glance, the ruling seems satisfactory and balanced, although we need to examine it carefully,” he said directly after the Court announced its verdict.

'War crime'

The court affirmed however that "the mass murder of the Polish prisoners by the Soviet secret police had been a war crime, as the obligation to treat prisoners of war humanely and the prohibition to kill them had clearly been part of international customary law, which the Soviet authorities had had a duty to respect."

Poland's justice minister, Jaroslaw Gowin has said that it was “too early” to take any decisions on the Court's ruling, as regards an appeal.

Gowin said that after the collapse of the Soviet union, Russia still has a problem with “domestic standards of the rule of law”.

But Minister Gowin said that it was still essential that Poland receives justice in the case.

The court clarified in a statement following the verdict that a fundamental “obstacle” in assessing Moscow's investigation was that the European Convention on Human Rights only came into force in Russia in 1998, some eight years after the Moscow's Katyn investigation began.

“First of all, it [the European Court of Human Rights] could only examine acts or omissions to act which had taken place after that date,” the statement underlined.

“The Russian authorities had taken most of the investigative steps in the case before the date on which Russia ratified the Convention,” and “there was no indication that any important procedural steps had taken place following the ratification.

“That in itself was an obstacle to the Court’s assessing the efficiency of the investigation in its entirety and to it forming a view about Russia’s compliance with its obligation to investigate under Article 2."

The Court's ruling, though incomplete in its findings, does not support claims made last week by Russian media that Poland would “lose the case” in Strasbourg, however.


Family members of the victims of the massacre had complained to the court that Russia had failed to sufficiently investigate the murders of the Polish officers and declined to let them have access to documents on the case.

It was only in 1990 that Russia finally accepted that the murders were not done by Nazi Germany, as the Soviets had originally claimed when the massacre first came to light, and expressed "profound regret" at the crime.

The Russian investigation was called off in 2005, with no individuals held responsible and no charges were brought against any living individuals. (pg/nh)

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