The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] concluded [judgment] Tuesday that the 1940 Katyn Massacre [Britannica backgrounder] of 21,000 Poles by the Soviets was a "war crime" but acknowledged that they cannot force Russia to investigate the killings further. The case was brought by 13 relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre who allege that the Russian government failed to provide adequate investigations into the incident and did not grant the relatives victim status. The ECHR's decision acknowledges that Russia violated the rights of the victim's relatives who were killed by the Soviet secret police in 1940 but that the court cannot rule on whether the Russia investigation into the massacre was conducted properly as Moscow has refused to provide the court with documents which would be vital in making the determination. In a press release [text] the EHCR determined that it "could not consider open-ended investigations into events which had taken place before the Convention became applicable in a given State. First of all, it could only examine acts or omissions to act which had taken place after that date. Second, a genuine connection between the deaths and the entry into force of the Convention had to exist in order for the State to be obliged to investigate such deaths."
The 1940 killings have long been a point of tension between the Russian and Polish governments. The Soviets originally blamed the Nazis and Russia only acknowledged responsibility in 1990. In February 2010, the Polish government joined this class-action lawsuit [JURIST report] against Russia filed in the ECHR by these 13 Polish citizens who are relatives of the victims. In January 2009, the victims' relatives were denied an appeal [JURIST report] to the Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] to reopen investigations into the killings. The court reasoned that the Soviet-era criminal code to be applied to the killings places a 10-year statute of limitations on the proceedings. In 2010 the Russian government made public [JURIST report] documents [materials, in Russian] relating to the 1940 Katyn Massacre. Among the documents is a 1940 note signed by Joseph Stalin ordering the execution of Polish "nationalists and counter-revolutionaries."