2019.08.01 09:00

Lithuanian to sue Gorbachev for Soviet crackdown in Vilnius

Urtė Korsakovaitė, LRT TV naujienų tarnyba, LRT.lt2019.08.01 09:00

Robertas Povilaitis is looking to find justice for his father’s murder during the Soviet crackdown on January 13, 1991 in Vilnius. His target – Mikhail Gorbachev.

In March 2018, Lithuania finished its biggest case, sentencing 67 people for war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in the 1991 crackdown. However, most were tried in absentia, and one of them, the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, wasn’t in Vilnius, nor agreed to testify.

Povilaitis said he spent years trying to nudge prosecutors to investigative Gorbachov’s responsibility that night, when 14 Lithuanians were killed. Now, Povilaitis is aiming to launch a civil lawsuit against the former Soviet leader.

“Since the General Prosecutor refused to begin a pre-trial investigation [...] we’re now looking for ways to continue” looking for Gorbachev's accountability, Povilaitis told LRT TV.

However, General Prosecutor’s representative, Elena Martinonienė, said there isn’t enough evidence needed to raise accusations against Gorbachev.

“The court also tried to call Mikhail Gorbachev to testify, but there was no response,” she said, stressing that the court exhausted available means to involve Gorbachev in the trial.

During the court case, Lithuanian prosecutors argued that it’s highly unlikely that Mikhail Gorbachev wasn’t aware of the Soviet military actions against unarmed Lithuanians.

According to civil law professor and lawyer Vytautas Mizaras, when trying to initiate a civil lawsuit, it’s an open question whether Gorbachev could claim immunity and if the Lithuanian courts would dismiss the case because of it.

If the courts would decide to prosecute, according to Mizaras, Russia would most likely turn to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, “similarly how Germany did against Italy, and Russia could say, for instance, Lithuania has violated its right to immunity”.

However, professor at Mykolas Romeris University, Dr Justinas Žilinskas, is adamant that the process would create added value – “it will make sure that the issue is not forgotten”.

“We could look at the practice in the US, where they have a law that any US citizen has the right to initiate a civil lawsuit when seeking damages for international law violations,” he said.

However, Russia is also likely to take action. Recently, its law enforcement has begun a criminal investigation into prosecutors, judges and other officials involved in Lithuania’s January 13 case.

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