war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Statement with regard to the Katyń Massacre and information regarding its investigation

07.03.2006    source:
Janusz Kurtyka, Witold Kulesza
The "arguments" provided by Russia’s Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office dishonour the memory of the 22 000 Polish victims of this terrible crime

6 March 2006

On 28.12.2006 Instytut Pamięci Narodowej [The Institute of National Remembrance] received via the Polish Embassy in Moscow the stated position of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation as of 18.01.2006 with regard to the possibility of victims of the Katyń Massacre being covered by the provisions of the Law of the Russian Federation of 18.10.1991 (amended on 22.12.1992) “On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression”.

Since the middle of the nineties, the Polish Embassy has registered dozens of applications from Polish citizens – relatives of the victims of the Katyń Massacre, to which the Russian side consistently responded that they could only be considered after the investigation being carried out by the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office was concluded. The Russian investigation was terminated on 21.10.2004. Its results were not made available to Poland despite applications made in this case. The Russian Prosecutor justifies this by claiming that the majority of the more than 180 volumes of the investigation and the final resolution are covered under a secrecy clause.

In his letter of 23.11.2005 addressed to the Polish Ambassador, the Russian Prosecutor refused to allow the widow of a Polish Officer murdered at Katyń access to the final resolution on the conclusion of the investigation, then in the letter from 18.01.2006 outlined the reasons why this officer and “others cannot on the grounds mentioned be rehabilitated”.  This extraordinary stand is based on the assertion that the Law “On the Rehabilitation (of Victims of Political Repression)” allows for the rehabilitation of people who were subjected to repression for political reasons (underlined in the original).  The letter goes on to claim “whereas, in the course of the initial criminal investigation, unfortunately it was not established on the basis of which article of the Criminal Code of the RF (in the 1926 version) the said individuals were prosecuted, since the documentation was destroyed”.

The position of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation is at odds with the contents of the instructions from 05.03.1940 signed by Stalin and members of the Politburo, which were carried out in the Katyń Massacre. In these instructions it is stated that the Poles were held “in camps of the NKVD of the USSR for war prisoners and in prisons of the western part of Ukraine and Belorussia … are sworn enemies of the Soviet regime, filled with hatred for the Soviet system”.  For this reason it is instructed that the cases „of hardened and unreformed enemies of the Soviet regime ... both those of the 14700 individuals in prisoner of war camps, and the cases of 11000 individuals arrested and being held in prisons in the western part of Ukraine and Belorussia be considered in special sessions and the ultimate penalty – execution by firing squad be applied”.  It is instructed in this document that “the cases be considered without calling those arrested and without charges being brought, a decision on the conclusion of the investigation and document with the charge”.

The contents of these instructions from 05.03.1940 indicate unambiguously and without any doubt whatsoever that the Katyń Massacre was an act of the most terrible political repression. Consequently the argument of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation that in order to establish this it would be necessary to determine on the basis of which article of the Criminal Code of the RF (in the 1926 version) the murdered Poles „were prosecuted” is in logical contradiction with the above-mentioned instructions for carrying out the killings without presenting those sentenced to be shot with any charges based on the provisions of the Russian Criminal Code, and also without a decision on the conclusion of the investigation and document with the charge against them.

”The position of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation effectively closes the door to joint action by prosecutor’s offices and the Institute of National Remembrance on agreed settlements and legal assessments of the Katyń Massacre.  The refusal to apply the provisions of the Law “On Rehabilitation …” to the victims of the Katyń Massacre and the grounds given for such a position may however be viewed as dishonouring the memory of the Polish victims and distressing members of their families.  It is staggering that the documentation from the Russian investigation into the Katyń Massacre of 1940 should still remain secret in 2006.  The IPN is therefore calling on the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation to make all documents from the investigations, as well as the final resolution, public.

With this state of affairs, the main aim of the Polish investigation, besides establishing all living members of the families of the victims who are entitled to the status of people who suffered through the Katyń Massacre, is to formulate and defend in detail both the historical and legal assessment of this terrible crime.

The assessment of the Katyń Massacre for Poland will always be the test of truth and good will in Polish-Russian relations.

Dr hab. Janusz Kurtyka  Head of the IPN 

Prof. Witold Kulesza   Director GKŚZpNP

(translated from Polish) 

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