European Courts are Disgusted by Russia’s Handling of the Katyn Massacre


20,000 Polish war prisoners were slaughtered during the 1940 Katyn massacre. Russia kept important files a secret while the European Court of Human Rights were investigating.

Strasbourg judges have ruled that although Russia may have failed to comply, they are not obligated to provide evidence.

The judge also said the court had no authority to rule on the inquiry either.

In 1990, Russians did admit to the massacre and that the Nazis were not responsible. Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) carried out the massacre in Katyn forest and it took place before the the European Convention on Human Rights were signed.

BBC News learned that the courts said they did not have the ability to rule on the way Russia handled the Katyn investigations. Too much time had passed between the killings and the beginning of the Convention. The examination held by the courts came after 15 relatives of the victims say Russia did not handle the investigations properly. They claimed that Moscow prevented them from learning the truth behind the massacre.

In the case of Janowiec vs. Russia, the judges in Strasbourg dismissed the applicants claim for resolution. The judges also say that the families must conclude that their loved ones were killed at Katyn, since they hadn’t been heard from since 1940.

So, what is in these files that Russia kept hidden for so long?

In 1990, Moscow began the criminal investigations regarding the slaughters. It was ended 2004 on the orders of the chief military prosecutors office of Russia. The files about the investigations remain classified. Polish claimants have been denied access to the files or any other information regarding the case.

October 21, the courts made their final judgement which states the Convention is obligated to comply with any request in regards to evidence. It also states that Russia failed to comply with procuring the classified evidence, which Russia was obligated to supply. They also add that Russia did not conduct substantial analysis for  the reasons behind keeping the files a secret.

Still, no one has been convicted of any connection with the Katyn massacre.

In 2010 Russia’s parliament gave a statement which says that more work needed to be done to verify the names of the victims and the circumstances behind the tragedy. Parliament also said the slaughters were carried out under orders given by Joseph Stalin. Russia  also published six files that were once secret. Within those files held details that was only available to researchers.

Newspapers in Poland were disgusted by the rulings. The headlines reflected this, stating that hands have been “washed of Katyn Crimes” and “there will be no justice for Katyn victims.”

The crimes were performed by NKVD during April and Pay of 1940 in the Katyn forest. They also were carried out near the villages of Mednoye and Pyatykhatky. Many of the slain were a part of the Polish Elite who were arrested after the USSR invaded eastern Poland a year earlier.

Stalin wrote a letter on March 5, 1940, Beria said the Polish POW would be executed. They were viewed as “steadfast, incorrigible enemies of Soviet power.”

In April of 2010, Lech Kaczynski, the Polish President and 90 other government officials were killed due to a plane crash. The officials were enroute to Smolensk airport to attend an event in honor of the Katyn massacre.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE