Court makes final ruling on World War Two Katyń massacre complaint

Judges have today revealed their decisions today on human rights complaints concerning the World War Two Katyń massacre.

In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Janowiec and Others v. Russia (application nos. 55508/07 and 29520/09), which is final, the European Court of Human Rights held:

By a majority, that it had no competence to examine the complaints under Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights;

By a majority, that there had been no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Convention;


Unanimously, that Russia had failed to comply with its obligations under Article 38 (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for examination of the case) of the convention.

The case concerned complaints by relatives of victims of the 1940 Katyń massacre – the killing of several thousands of Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) – that the Russian authorities’ investigation into the massacre had been inadequate.

The court found that it was not competent to examine the adequacy of an investigation into the events that had occurred before the adoption of the Convention in 1950. Furthermore, by the time the convention entered into force in Russia, the death of the Polish prisoners of war had become established as a historical fact and no lingering uncertainty as to their fate – which might have given rise to a breach of Article 3 in respect of the applicants – had remained.

The court underlined that Member States were obliged to comply with its requests for evidence and found that Russia, in refusing to submit a key procedural decision which remained classified, had
failed to comply with that obligation. The Russian courts had not conducted a substantive analysis of the reasons for maintaining the classified status.

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