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Commentary by Aleksandr Guryanov on the European Court’s Ruling in the Katyn Case

Source: (info), 17/04/12

· European Court of Human Rights  · Human rights defenders  · Human rights education  · Moscow city & Moscow region

Aleksandr Guryanov of the International Memorial Society: The complaint to the European Court about the Katyn massacre concerned violations committed by contemporary law enforcement agencies such as the prosecutor's office and the courts, which shamelessly ignore Russia's laws when it suits the leaders of the Russian state...

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Mumin Shakirov: The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the mass execution of Poles in the Soviet Union in 1940 was a military crime. However, the Court refused to appraise the efficiency of the investigation of the “Katyn Case” carried out by the Russian authorities. Fifteen Polish citizens related to those who had been executed applied to the Court. Their complaint cited violations committed by Russia of the right to life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights because the Russian authorities had not carried out an effective investigation into the death of their relatives.

In an interview with Radio Liberty, Aleksandr Guryanov, chair of the Polish commission of the International Memorial Society commented as follows on the case:

“On the one hand, this ruling condemns Russia for refusing to cooperate properly with the Strasbourg Court - a refusal expressed by the country's failure to provide the materials that the Court demanded. We are talking here about a key document from an investigation that took Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor's Office 14 years to carry out and which came to an end in 2004. This is a key document because it contains all the results of the investigation.”

“What were the victims' relatives complaining about in particular?”

“About the refusal of the Russian Prosecutor's Office to acknowledge them as victims. It emerges that the investigation carried out by the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office failed to carry out the main function of any investigation - a function, which is prescribed by the Russian Criminal Procedure Code: the establishment of a full and reliable list of all the victims.

If these victims lost their lives as the result of a crime, the investigation is obliged, in accordance with due procedure, to grant their nearest relatives status as victims. The Russian investigation did not complete this elementary task.

And when the relatives began to demand access to the case materials in order to find out at least some of the details regarding the death of their relatives, the prosecutors lifted their hands in dismay and said: You haven't been granted victim status and we don't have the right to show you the materials of this case.

In order to grant these relatives the status of victims, the investigation needs to be re-opened. But according to the prosecutor's office this is not possible because the statute of limitations has lapsed.

Russia, headed by its political leaders, have thus created a genuine Catch-22 situation. Nothing can be done. Twenty-two thousand people executed! Eighteen thousand names of victims are known, only one group remains anonymous. But these eighteen thousand people whose personal details are known on the basis of Soviet documents remain 'anonymous' so far as the prosecutor's office is concerned because they did not carry out the task that was set them. They did not establish a list of the victims.

The most that can be expected from the Strasbourg Court is that it will oblige Russia to re-open the investigation precisely so that these tasks might be carried out."

“And as we see this didn't happen.”

"The Strasbourg Court performed a kind of manoeuvre. On the one hand, it condemned Russia for refusing to cooperate, and on the other it said that because it was unable to see the materials and appraise the conscientiousness and reliability of the investigation, then it could not make a statement on this issue and it could not say whether Article 6 of the European Convention on the right to a fair trial had been breached or not.

The very fact that twenty-two thousand Polish citizens were executed without trial was not the point of the complaint and was not the point at issue in the Court.

The complaint was concerned with the violations committed by contemporary law enforcement agencies such as the Public Prosecutor's Office and the courts, which shamelessly ignore Russia's laws when it suits the leaders of the Russian state.

In such a situation it is possible to ignore the existence of the law on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression and the law on state secrets which forbid documents relating to the repressions to be classified as secret. Laws are ignored, which should be observed by state bodies first and foremost. And this especially applies to the Public Prosecutor's Office, whose main function is to oversee the observance of the law." 
Rights in Russia,
24 Apr 2012, 08:03