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ECR

ECHR hears complaing of Katyn relatives

13 February 2013

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held today a public hearing on the complaint concerning the case of Janowiec and Others v. Russia.

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held today a public hearing on the complaint concerning the case of Janowiec and Others v. Russia. Relying on Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants, Polish nationals, relatives of war prisoners murdered without trial by the NKVD (Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs) in the so called Katyn Forest massacre complain that the Russian authorities did not carry out an effective and adequate investigation into the death of their relatives and displayed a dismissive attitude to all their requests for information about the fate of over 22,000 Polish prisoners of war.

On 16 April 2012, the ECHR held that the killings constituted “a war crime,” and that several of the applicants had suffered “inhumane treatment” by Russian authorities in their attempts to find out the truth about what happened, not only through denying the Katyn massacre, but also by refusing legal rehabilitation of the Polish NKVD victims. Despite ruling that the murders constituted “war crimes”, the court decided it could not examine the merits of the applicants’ complaint under Article 2 because it could not establish a genuine connection between the deaths of the victims and the entry into force of the European Convention inRussiain 1998.

However, Russian authorities do not perceive the investigation into the death of over 22,000 Polish prisoners of war as their obligation. Deputy Justice Minister Georgiy Matushkin, underlined that there is no “real relation” between theKatynForestmassacre and the need for further investigation into this matter.

According to ECR Vice Chairman, Ryszard Legutko MEP (ECR): “Claiming that there is no relation between the Katyn massacre and the presumptive obligation to carry out a proper investigation into the matter is a mockery. Russians, not for the first time, avoid all kind of settlement or confrontation with their past”.

On Wednesday relatives of the Katyn massacre victims have once again become the subject of attacks on behalf of the Russian authorities. Mr Matushkin acknowledged that relatives knew very well of the fate of their loved one, denying that they have experienced sufferance and ill-treatments. Ryszard Legutko said that “such statements are shocking; especially when we take into account the very fact that the ECHR acknowledged last year that Russia authorities had violated the rights of relatives who according to the ruling had suffered “inhumane treatment” in their attempts to find out the truth about what happened.”

One of the key questions concerns the legal qualification of the Katyn massacre. The nature of war crimes offences under international law, do not posses a statute of limitation, and therefore could convince the judges to assess whether Russia had complied with the obligation to properly investigate the death of over 22,000 prisoners of war. Judges will also consider the possible violation of art. 38 of the Convention (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for examination of the case) requiring from states full cooperation with the ECHR.

The final judgment will be delivered by the end of this year and could lead to the payment of compensation to the relatives of the victims and to reopen the investigation in Russia, and this time it carried out effectively.

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