Janowiec and Others v. Russia
State/Non-State Agents | Admissibility
The Court was satisfied that between 1939 and 1940 the victims were in custody and under the full and exclusive control of the State, concluding that those who were taken prisoner in 1939 must be presumed to have been executed by the authorities in 1940. The Court found that the period of time between their death and the ratification of the Convention by the State was too long for a genuine connection to be established between the two dates, in light of the fact that the events that might have triggered the obligation to investigate took place more than ten years before the Convention came into existence and all concrete investigative steps undertaken by the authorities took place before the entry into force of the Convention for the State. Accordingly, the Court concluded that it had no competence ratione temporis to examine complaints of a violation of the right to life. The Court further held that, although the situation initially presented the features of a “disappearance” case, it must now be considered a “confirmed death” case as, even though not all of the bodies have been recovered, the victims' death was publicly acknowledged by the authorities and became an established historical fact. For this reason, having regard to the long lapse of time passed and to the efforts to elucidate the circumstances of the Katyn massacre, the Court found that the applicants cannot be said to have been in a state of uncertainty as to the fate of their relatives after the entry into force of the Convention for the State. While acknowledging the grief and distress that they experienced as a consequence of the extrajudicial execution of their family members, the Court did not make a finding of inhuman treatment with respect to the victims' relatives, considering that their suffering did not reach a dimension and character distinct from the emotional distress which may be regarded as inevitably caused to relatives of victims of a serious human rights violation.
October 21, 2013
Article 38 [ECHR]
Articles not violated / not dealt with
Article 2 [ECHR], Article 3 [ECHR]
Facts of the Case
Following Russia's annexation of part of Poland in 1939, a number of Polish nationals were detained by the Russian army as prisoners of war in Soviet camps. Exchanges of correspondence between the Polish prisoners and their families continued until the spring of 1940, when many of those prisoners were killed. From then on, their relatives remained for many years in a state of uncertainty as to their fate. In 1942 and 1943, mass burials were discovered near the Katyn Forest in Poland. Thousands of remains were excavated: half of them were identified, while it was not possible to ascertain the fate of those prisoners whose bodies had not been identified. The Soviet authorities initially denied that they had executed the Polish prisoners of war. No further attempts at identifying the victims of the Katyn massacre were made until 1990, when Russia officially acknowledged the responsibility of the Soviet leadership for these killings. The investigation into the origin of the mass burials started in 1990 and was formally terminated in 2004. Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998.