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Statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry Following the Pronouncement on May 17, 2010, of the Ruling of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the Case of Vasily Kononov


Although the ruling of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Vasily Kononov, pronounced on May 17, is being carefully studied in Russia, we can already, based on our initial assessment, speak about a very dangerous precedent that causes us great concern.

We regard the verdict of the Grand Chamber not just as a revision of the fair ruling the Court Chamber in this case, handed down on July 24, 2008, but as an attempt to cast doubt on several key political and legal principles that emerged following the Second World War and the postwar settlement in Europe, particularly with regard to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

The essence of the ruling of the Grand Chamber of the ECHR on May 17 lies in the refusal to satisfy the complaint of the former fighter against fascism, 87-year-old Latvian partisan, who was sentenced on trumped-up charges of “war crimes” on the territory of Latvia in 1944.

By excluding the responsibility of Latvia, previously found in violation of Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights under the ruling of July 24, 2008, the ECHR Grand Chamber has actually agreed today with those who seek to revise the outcome of World War II and whitewash the Nazis and their accomplices.

This position has its origins in the undisguised rejection by Riga of the postwar arrangements in Europe and of the results of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which are considered worldwide as the fundamental source of contemporary international criminal law, including the acknowledgment of Waffen SS as a criminal organization.

Qualifying the actions of anti-Nazi fighter Kononov as a “war crime” comes into direct contradiction with the universally recognized fundamental principles of law, especially with the principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law. In fact, the ECHR’s acceptance of the position of Latvia in this case means a legally baseless and politically detrimental shift in the Court's legal approaches to the assessment of events and outcomes of the Second World War.

As a member of the Council of Europe for more than 14 years, the Russian Federation highly appreciates the results of the multi-faceted cooperation among member states, and the Organization's contribution to the consolidation of the democratic development of Russia. In these circumstances, the decision of a part of the members of the Court in the Kononov case seriously damages the credibility of the Council of Europe in general and may be viewed as an attempt to draw new dividing lines in Europe and to destroy the continent's emerging consensus on pan-European standards and values.

The Russian Federation, which took part in the Kononov case as a third party, after a comprehensive assessment of the ruling and its legal implications will draw the appropriate conclusions, including with regard to the construction of our future relations with both the Court and the Council of Europe as a whole.

Undoubtedly, in the course of the ongoing reform of the crisis-afflicted ECHR it is necessary to seek to ensure that any repetition of such Court decisions is ruled out.

We should also particularly note the serious negative consequences of the ruling in the Kononov case for anti-fascist veterans in all countries that fought against the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II, as well as for their descendants. The verdict of the Court, concurring with the wrongful conviction in a Council of Europe member country of one of the fighters of the Anti-Hitler Coalition, means, in essence, a justification the Nazis and their accomplices and will be conducive to the further growth of the influence in Europe of revanchism and pro-Nazi and extremist/radical nationalist forces.

We are certain that the Russian and international legal community will say its word in qualifying the legal consequences of this ruling.

May 17, 2010