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Europe rights court avoids ruling on Katyn massacre investigation

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that it is not competent to examine the adequacy of an investigation by Russian authorities into the1940 Katyn Massacre [Britannica backgrounder], where thousands of Polish prisoners of war were killed by the Soviet secret police (NKVD). The case was brought by 15 relatives of victims of the massacre who allege that the Russian government failed to conduct adequate investigations into the incident. The court held that Russia had failed to comply with its obligations to furnish necessary facilities for examination of the case under Article 38 of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] but that it was unable to examine the adequacy of Russia's investigation into the events that had occurred before the adoption of the Convention in 1950. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski stated that, despite the ruling, the Polish government will continue to support [AP report] the relatives of the victims in their attempt to discover the truth of what exactly happened to their deceased relatives during the massacre.

The 1940 killings have long been a point of tension between the Russian and Polish governments. The Soviets originally blamed the Nazis and Russia only acknowledged responsibility in 1990. Last April the ECHR concluded [JURIST report] that the massacre was a "war crime" but acknowledged that they could not force Russia to investigate the killings further. In February 2010 the Polish government joined the class action lawsuit [JURIST report] against Russia filed in the ECHR by 13 Polish citizens who are relatives of the victims. In January 2009 the victims' relatives were denied an appeal [JURIST report] by the Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] to reopen investigations into the killings. The court reasoned that the Soviet-era criminal code to be applied to the killings places a 10-year statute of limitations on the proceedings. In 2010 the Russian government made public [JURIST report] documents [materials, in Russian] relating to the 1940 Katyn Massacre. Among the documents is a 1940 note signed by Joseph Stalin ordering the execution of Polish "nationalists and counter-revolutionaries."

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