Strasbourg court has no mandate to exonerate Katyn victims says Russia

The European Human Rights Convention does not stipulate mandatory exoneration for victims of past crimes, Russia’s ombudsman to the European Court of Human Rights Georgiy Matyushkin said on Thursday in a hearing on the Katyn forest massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet Union during World War Two.

Thousands of Polish officers, police and civilians taken prisoner during the 1939 partitioning of Poland by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were massacred by the NKVD in the Katyn massacre.

Polish relatives of the victims are involved in an ongoing lawsuit against Russia over the Katyn massacre case, which was closed in Russia in 2004 without the exoneration of the Katyn victims. The Human Rights Court has accepted the lawsuit for deliberation on two counts – the right to life and prohibition of torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The Katyn families involved in the hearings argue that the Russian investigation carried out in the years 1991-2004 was incomplete, and that the Russian courts did not cooperate with the victims’ relatives.

Although promises have been made by Russian authorities over the past year, the matter has stalled, with claims that, technically, the 22,500 Polish citizens were executed without trial.

“The convention does not give the right for exoneration or honoring the names [of the victims],” Matyushkin said at the hearings that started on Thursday.

He added, though, that Russia was “searching for ways” to satisfy the claims of the relatives of Katyn victims.

Katyn remains one of the most painful issues in Russian-Polish relations.

The Soviet Union always blamed the massacre on the Nazis, saying the killings took place in 1941, when the territory was in German hands.

However, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev formally admitted in 1990 that the executions took place around 1940, and were carried out by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.

In the 1990s, Russia handed over to Poland copies of archive documents from the top-secret File No.1, which placed the blame solely on the Soviet Union.

In September 1990, Russian prosecutors also launched a criminal case into the massacre, known as “Case No.159.” The investigation was closed in 2004. Last year, Russia handed over to Poland hundreds of files of its investigation into the Katyn massacre.

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, which has been investigating the case since 2004, has proposed including Russia’s materials into its own investigation.

In November 2010, lawmakers from the lower house of Russia’s parliament approved a declaration recognizing the Katyn massacre as a crime committed by Joseph Stalin’s regime.


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