Human Rights Court Rebukes Russia Over WWII Katyn Massacre

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The European Court of Human Rights criticized Russia on Monday for keeping secret key documents about its inquiry into a World War II massacre of Poles, but ruled that the court wasn’t competent to assess the quality of Russia’s investigation into the killings.

MOSCOW, October 21 (RIA Novosti) – The European Court of Human Rights criticized Russia on Monday for keeping secret key documents about its inquiry into a World War II massacre of Poles, but ruled that the court wasn’t competent to assess the quality of Russia’s investigation into the killings. 

Monday’s ruling was the final word in a case brought by relatives of 12 victims of the 1940 Soviet massacre of Polish prisoners of war, who argued that the Russian authorities’ investigation into the massacre in the Katyn forest had been inadequate. 

In the case, officially known as Janowiec and Others v. Russia, the court’s Grand Chamber unanimously said that Russia should have honored repeated requests to declassify details of its investigation into the massacre, as well as the text of its 2004 decision to discontinue the case. 

However, the jury of 17 judges said that it could not assess the adequacy of an investigation into events that had occurred before the 1950 adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights.

An estimated 22,000 Polish prisoners of war, mostly military officers and intellectuals, were executed in April and May 1940 by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) and buried in mass graves in Russia's Katyn forest and nearby villages.

The Soviet Union only admitted to the killings in 1990, having blamed the Nazis for the massacre for five decades, but no one has ever been convicted in connection with the crime and Russia insists everyone responsible is now dead.

The families said that Russia’s noncooperation had kept them from finding out the truth about the killings, and that Russian authorities had been dismissive of all their requests for information about their relatives' fate. 

The Katyn massacre, and Russia’s refusal to hand over documents about the killings to Poland, have strained relations between Moscow and Warsaw for years. In 2010, a plane carrying the Polish president and about 100 high-ranking Polish military officials and politicians to a memorial ceremony for the victims of Katyn crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing all on board.

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