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Court backs Germany’s refusal to reimburse legal expenses of Sobibór extermination camp guard John Demjanjuk

Human rights judges have rejected a complaint against Germany from the relatives of John Demjanjuk, a guard at the Sobibór extermination camp.

The case concerned the German courts’ decision not to reimburse Demjanjuk’s necessary expenses although proceedings were discontinued.

In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Demjanjuk v. Germany (application no. 24247/15) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

no violation of Article 6 § 1 (right of access to court) or Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In May 2011, the late John Demjanjuk was convicted by a Regional Court for the murder of 28,060, persons while acting as a guard in the World War Two Sobibór extermination camp.

The proceedings were discontinued after his death in March 2012 while an appeal on points of law was still pending.

The applicants, Demjanjuk’s widow and his son, complained that the Regional Court decision not to reimburse the necessary expenses, and the dismissal of their appeal by the Munich Court of Appeal, violated their right of access to a court and the principle of presumption of innocence.

The European court found in particular that the Court of Appeal’s determination of the applicants’ lack of standing had not affected their right to have their claims examined and determined in substance, and that therefore there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1.

The court also found that, although some of the wording contained in the Regional Court’s decision might be considered unfortunate, the domestic court had made it clear that its decision had been based on a state of suspicion against the accused and had not contained a finding of guilt.

Therefore, the principle of the presumption of innocence had not been infringed.

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