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Court: Exhumations during Polish presidential plane crash investigation breached rights of victims’ wives

Judges declared today that the exhumations of victims killed in the Polish presidential plane crash led to a breach of human rights law.

In its Chamber judgment in the case of Solska and Rybicka v. Poland (application nos. 30491/17 and 31083/17) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Poland was to pay each applicant 16,000 euros (EUR) in respect of nonpecuniary damage.

The case concerned the exhumation of the victims killed in the Polish Air Force plane crash in Smolensk in 2010. The Polish prosecuting authorities ordered the exhumations in 2016 as part of the ongoing investigation into the crash, which killed 96 people, including the President of Poland.

The authorities wanted to conduct autopsies to establish the cause of the crash, including the possibility of an explosion on board.

The applicants, Ewa Maria Solska and Małgorzata Ewa Rybicka, wives of two of the victims, objected to the exhumation of the remains of their husbands, to no avail.

Before the European Court, they complained that their husbands’ bodies had been exhumed without their consent and that they had had no possibility of an independent review or appeal against the decision.

The court found that the requirement of an effective investigation into an incident of unprecedented gravity for the State had to be weighed against the importance of the applicants’ interest in having their husbands’ remains respected.

However, Polish law had not provided a mechanism for a review of those conflicting interests. Therefore the applicants had been deprived of the minimum degree of protection to which they had been entitled as concerned their right to respect for their private and family life.

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