European Court of Human Rights: photo -wikipedia
The Polish government is supporting the families in their appeal to the court.
On 16 April, the Strasbourg court ruled that “it could not examine the applicants’ complaint about the ineffective [Russian] investigation into the Katyn massacre,” as the European Convention on Human Rights only came into force in Russia in 1998, some seven years after Moscow's Katyn investigation began.
According to the Strasbourg court, a “major obstacle” was that “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.”
However, Dr Ireneusz Kaminski. a member of the legal team representing the Polish families, believes that it is worth appealing against the verdict.
“We have strong arguments in our favour and we want to convince the Strasbourg judges that the European Court of Human Rights can judge Russia's legal proceedings in the Katyn massacre case as of 5 May 1998, ie after the date when Russia adopted the European Convention on Human Rights,” he told the Polish Press Agency.
Kaminski noted that in the section of the judgement regarding whether Strasbourg could rule on the effectiveness of the Russian investigation, the judges were split by four voices to three.
“Therefore, we are faced with a significant division among the judges,” he said.
An unresolved legacy
Over 22,000 Polish citizens – a large portion of whom were reserve officers – were executed by the Soviet secret police in April 1940.
The mass killings took place at various points across the Soviet Union, including the Katyn Forest near Smolensk.
However, Moscow only admitted guilt for the crime following the collapse of the Iron Curtain. An official investigation was launched in 1991 but broken off in September 2004.
In March 2005, Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov said that “the criminal case was dropped ... as there was no instance of genocide against the Polish people either at the state level or from a legal standpoint.”
Poland is still waiting for copies of a number of files connected with the investigation to be handed over to Warsaw.
In the April verdict this year, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the Katyn murders constituted “a war crime.”
Aside from the charge relating to the effectiveness of the Russian investigation, the Strasbourg court ruled separately 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 inhumane treatment.”
It is expected that the Strasbourg court will respond to the request for an appeal within the next three months. (nh)