A pivotal judgment of the ECHR: “No impunity for perpetrators of war crimes,” Sandra Kalniete MEP

Press release
Strasbourg, 18 May 2010 

Yesterday, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg upheld the war crimes conviction of a “Red Partisan” who was found guilty of ordering the killing of civilians while fighting for Soviet forces in Nazi-occupied Latvia in 1944.
The Court delivered its judgment in the case “Kononov v. Latvia”, in which it recognized with 14 votes “for” and 3 votes “against” that by convicting Mr Vasiliy Kononov in 2004 for the war crime committed in 1944 by means of brutal murder of civilian population, Latvia has not violated the prohibition of retroactive application of criminal law enshrined in Article 7 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 

MEP Sandra Kalniete (EPP-Latvia) welcomes the ECHR judgment which confirms the generally recognized principle of international law that the responsibility for the committed war crimes shall be individual and effective, and that such crimes may not be justified by the perpetrator’s belonging to a certain state, political, ideological or other group.

Sandra Kalniete: “I believe that the ECHR judgment is living proof of the international law principle that war crimes shall not be subject to statutory limitations.”

Sandra Kalniete stresses that the crimes committed under the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century – including National Socialism and Totalitarian Communism – have to be treated equally. 

“There are no grounds to justify any one of them, certainly not because one participated in the victory over the other.  The fight against Nazism cannot serve as an eternal absolution for those who have committed crimes against civil populations. The crimes committed by Kononov and others similar to him are not absolved over time, they cannot be forgiven or forgotten,” says Kalniete.

Ms Kalniete is convinced that the decision of the court is one more step towards historical justice: “It gives satisfaction to all those innocents who have suffered. No court decision will be able to compensate for the lost or damaged lives, nevertheless, this decision reminds us that wherever and whenever the crimes against humanity are conducted, those who are guilty will receive fair punishment.”

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights is an important contribution to combating impunity of state representatives, believes Kalniete. “It is a reminder and warning to all those who continue committing crimes against civil populations during military conflicts.” 

For further information:
Sandra Kalniete MEP, Tel: +371 29246328
Peteris Vinkelis,  Adviser, Tel: + 32  493 124 415 

Note: Sandra Kalniete is a Member of European Parliament from Latvia. She chairs the informal group “Reconciliation of European Histories” in the European Parliament. Born in Siberia,  Ms Kalniete in 1989 was one of the leaders of the independence movement of Latvia and became the first European Commissioner from Latvia in 2004.  Her book “With Dance Shoes in Siberian Snows” –  a family story about the years of Soviet occupation – has become the most-translated Latvian book in recent history.

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