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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poland government joins suit against Russia for 1940 Katyn massacre
Zach Zagger at 1:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Polish government joined [Rzeczpospolita report, in Polish] a class-action on lawsuit Wednesday brought against Russia for the 1940 Katyn Massacre [Brittanica backgrounder; JURIST news archive] where 20,000 Poles were killed by the USSR. The suit [complaint], filed in May in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] is being brought by 13 Polish citizens who are relatives of the victims. They allege that the Russian government failed to provide adequate investigations into the incident and did not grant the relatives victim status. The complaint states:

[T]hey were denied an effective remedy which would have been able to reveal the true circumstances, in which their relatives had been killed. They pointed out that the above-mentioned deficiencies of the criminal investigation undermined the efficiency of other remedies, as the success of civil-law measures was made dependent on the result of criminal investigation.

The Polish government joining the suit gives it more legitimacy and enables the government to submit proposals to the court. Russia has until March 19 to respond to the allegations.

This is not the first attempt by the relatives of the Katyn massacre victims to seek a remedy. In January 2009, they were denied an appeal [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation [official website, in Russian] to reopen investigations into the killings. The court reasoned that the Soviet-era criminal code to be applied to the killings places a 10-year statute of limitations on the proceedings. A decade-long official inquiry into the killing of 20,000 Poles during the 1939 annexation of Poland was closed in 2004 due to a lack of living potential defendants and expiration of the statute of limitations. In 1990, the government of Mikhail Gorbachev [Guardian profile] admitted that Soviet leader Josef Stalin [BBC backgrounder] had personally ordered [documents, in Russian] the killings.

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