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2019.09.11 09:30

European Human Rights Court upholds landmark ruling on Soviet genocide in Lithuania

Vaidotas Beniušis, BNS2019.09.11 09:30

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld its previous ruling that Soviet repressions against Lithuanian partisans can be treated as genocide.

The appeal was submitted by Kęstutis Rakauskas, the defence lawyer for Stanislovas Drėlingas, a former KGB officer found guilty of genocide in Lithuania for his role in the operation to detain Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, one of Lithuanian partisan leaders, and his wife in 1956.

A panel of seven ECHR judges ruled in March that the judgment did not violate the former KGB officer's rights. However, his lawyer wanted the ruling to be reconsidered by a panel of 17 judges.

The Strasbourg court upheld the Lithuanian Supreme Court's explanation that the systematic extermination of Lithuanian partisans by the occupying Soviet regime constituted genocide against the Lithuanian nation.

The ECHR accepted that Lithuanian partisans and their supporters "had played an essential role in protecting the national identity, culture and national self‑awareness of the Lithuanian nation".

According to the Strasburg court, although Drėlingas did not make the decision to execute the partisan commander, "even a private soldier could not show total, blind obedience to orders which flagrantly infringed internationally recognized human rights, in particular the right to life, which is the supreme value in the hierarchy of human rights".

The judgment was adopted with five votes in favor and two against.

Drėlingas' lawyer says the judges in Strasbourg "failed to look at whether the charge and conviction by the national courts could have been foreseen at the time when the act was committed".

According to Rakauskas, the Grand Chamber should also look at whether the Lithuanian courts' interpretation of partisans' role is compatible with international law.

"The European Court of Human Rights did not deliberate on whether Drėlingas' alleged role as an accessory could be understood at the time of arrest as an act falling under the Genocide Convention," he told BNS.

Drėlingas, who was born in 1931, never admitted to the charges, saying he was in a KGB building at the time of the operation. In view of Drėlingas' poor health and his secondary role in the crime, the Lithuanian Supreme Court in 2016 reduced his sentence from five years to five months and six days, which the man had already served by that time.

Following the detention of Ramanauskas-Vanagas in 1956, he was brutally tortured, sentenced to death by a Soviet court and executed in 1957.

The remains of the partisan leader were identified and reburied in a state funeral last October.

At least 50,000 people took part in the armed resistance movement which started after Soviet troops occupied Lithuania for the second time in 1944 and lasted until 1953.