RIGA - Latvia has won the ‘Kononov vs. Latvia’ case on appeal at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), as the Grand Chamber, with 14 votes in favor and three votes against, ruled that Latvia had not violated Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prevents retroactive punishment for crimes. The verdict is final.
The May 17 decision recognizes that by convicting Vasiliy Kononov in 2004 for the war crime committed in 1944 by means of the brutal murder of the Mazie Bati 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, writes the Latvian Institute.
The judgment confirms the generally recognized principle of international law that 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. The Latvian Foreign Ministry believes that the ECHR judgment is living proof of the international law principle that war crimes shall not be subject to statutory limitations. This judgment is an important contribution to combating impunity of state representatives, which has been in the focus of attention of the United Nations and is under gradually increasing attention by the Council of Europe.
Kononov’s claim was that several provisions in the European Convention of Human Rights were violated by Latvian courts, insisting that he has been convicted of wrongdoing - the murder of civilians - that was not classified as a crime in either international or national laws at that time.
Russia, in its attempts to defend the convicted war criminal, has condemned the Grand Chamber’s ruling, reports news agency LETA. The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that “the ruling is unclear. We have just celebrated the 65th anniversary since the victory in World War II, and suddenly a decision is made against those who fought fascism.”
The ministry makes the claim that this decision reverses the status of Kononov, from that of a “fighter against Nazism,” to a “war criminal,” and this is legally unfounded. Its statement also claimed that the ruling will severely damage the authority of the Council of Europe and may be perceived as an attempt to draw new dividing lines in Europe, by destroying the current unanimity on pan-European standards and values.
It continues by stating that the case creates a very dangerous precedent, which is a cause of “great concern.” The Grand Chamber, in the Foreign Ministry’s opinion, has just revised “the just judgement of the ECHR of July 24, 2008” and raised the question of a number of political and judicial principles that have been approved as a result of World War II. “The ECHR Grand Chamber has in fact joined those who try to revise the results of World War II and whitewash Nazis and their collaborators.”
The Criminal Cases Chamber of the Latvian Supreme Court on April 30, 2004, convicted Kononov of war crimes. According to the indictment, Kononov headed a Red partisan group that arrived in the Mazie Bati village in Latgale, in vengeance for the alleged betrayal of another partisan or partisan group to the Germans in 1944. Kononov was accused of burning the Krupniks family alive in their house. The victims were Mikhail and his nine-months-pregnant wife, Tekla, and Mikhail’s mother, Veronika.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry expressed its gratitude to the Republic of Lithuania for joining the proceedings in the case as a third party, thereby supporting the position of the government of Latvia.