Doing time for Soviet crimes

  • 2002-03-14
  • Juri Estam
I write in reference to two articles in your issue #292: "Expulsion Tug of War in International Court" and "Family of ex-KGB agent complains to European Court."

In the latter item, Mikhail Farbtukh, who was sentenced in 2000 for participating in ethnic cleansing carried out on the territory of occupied Latvia, claims "he was tried under laws that did not exist at the time of his alleged crime."

Did international law - due perhaps to some hidden loophole we don't know about - not apply in Latvia and the other Baltic states in 1941, when the armed forces and the security forces of a neighboring country (including Farbtukh) carried out the first in a series of Orwellian mass deportations of innocents in these three countries to Siberia?

Article 43 of The Hague Convention, which entered into force in 1900, states: "(When) the authority of the legitimate power having actually passes into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all steps in his power to re-establish and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country."

I would like Mr. Farbtukh and his lawyers to reply to the following question: Which of the laws of independent Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (which, if the Hague Convention applies at all in our world, should still technically have been in place in 1941) said that it was OK for the military and secret police structures of another country to conduct ethnic cleansing of numerous families on Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian soil?

Not only did those actions reek of Bosnian-style war crimes, but I will wager that Latvia had laws in place that protected its citizens and residents from illegal detention, not to mention the persecution and ill treatment that befell the victims of the unlawful arrests carried out by these secret policemen of an uninvited foreign country.

When Anne Frank was arrested by the Gestapo, was the Gestapo not violating the laws of occupied Holland in contravention of international law? Might does not make right.

German henchmen were not tried in Norway after World War II based on the laws of the country of the wartime occupiers, that having been the Third Reich.

They were tried on the basis of Norwegian law, in accordance with international law. I wonder if anyone has the chutzpah to respond to this letter and suggest "Soviet-style" that "the Baltic States joined the USSR of their own volition in 1940?"

That we had voluntarily asked for this catastrophe of major proportions to befall us?

Sooner or later I would like to see the international community develop the backbone to start placing the tragedies that were perpetrated in the Baltic countries in the context of the protection that international law is supposed to provide for all, not just for Bosnia and genocide-ravaged African countries.

Will the United Nations - among others - ever display some formal interest (as in starting to collect evidence) toward the war crimes and other very substantial tragedies that were visited upon the populations of the three Baltic countries?

For that matter - although not a politically correct topic - the displacement and settling of individuals and populations onto or from occupied territories is also a violation of international law by the perpetrating country, and not an insignificant one at that.

Judging by the inconsistent behavior of the international community, somewhere there must be a loophole that provides for the non-application of international law to the Baltic States, except that I can't find a written copy of said loophole, despite all my efforts.

Mr. Farbtukh either needs to go acquire a bunch of book learning, or he is incredibly brazen and cruel "to speak of the rope in the house of the hanged man." Perhaps he ought to drop the attitude.

Remorse for his crimes and contrition might just get him closer to his goal of being released from prison than denial will. If those who were the instruments of suffering are disinclined to express contrition, maybe this is something that future generations will be capable of learning - if of course we don't behave as though nothing had happened.