The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered today its final judgment in the case of Janowiec and Others v. Russia. The case concerned complaints about the adequacy of the investigation by the Russian authorities into the 1940 Katyń massacre.
On 16 April 2012 in its Chamber judgment, the ECHR held that it could not examine the merits of the applicants’ complaint under Article 2 because it could not establish a genuine connection between the deaths of the victims and the entry into force of the European Convention in Russia in 1998. However, the ECtHR had found that the manner in which the applicants’ enquiries had been dealt with by the Russian authorities had attained the minimum level of severity to be considered inhuman treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention. Russia was found to have violated Article 3 with regards to 10 of the applicants who were considered close relatives of the Polish Officers killed in 1940.
On 24 September 2012 the case was referred to the Grand Chamber at the applicants’ request.
Today, the Court upheld a majority, that it had no competence to examine the complaints under Article 2 and reversed its judgment on Article 3. Indeed, the Court found by a majority that there had been no violation of Article 3. However, the ECtHR concluded that Russia had failed to comply with its obligations under Article 38 (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for examination of the case).
On the complaint under Article 3, the ECtHR acknowledged that the magnitude of the crime committed in 1940 by the Soviet authorities was a powerful emotional factor. However, from a purely legal point of view, the Court stated it could not accept it as a reason for departing from its case-law on the status of family members of “disappeared persons”. Indeed, in this case, the death of the applicants’ relatives was a certainty as it was publicly announced by the Soviet and Russian authorities. Thus, the status of “disappeared persones” could not be conferred to the applicants in this case. The Court therefore considered that their suffering had not reached a dimension and character distinct from the emotional distress inevitably caused to relatives of victims of a serious human rights violation. Accordingly, the ECtHR reversed the April judgment and found no violation of Article 3.
For the press release, click here.
For the delivery of the judgment, click here.