International crimes not subject to statutory limitations

Background information

In the Republic of Estonia pre-trial investigation of international crimes not subject to statutory limitations, i.e. genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, is the function of the Estonian Internal Security Service. Conducting the proceedings of these grave criminal offences became possible in Estonia in 1995 when a chapter addressing crimes against humanity and war crimes was added to the Criminal Code which was valid at that time. The Republic of Estonia had expressed readiness to investigate these crimes already in 1991 when shortly after re-establishing its independence Estonia acceded to international agreements which regulate the area of international crimes not subject to statutory limitations, including the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted in 1948 and the UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity adopted in 1968. The new Penal Code that entered into force in 2002 added a chapter on genocide next to the chapter on crimes against humanity.

International crimes not subject to statutory limitations committed in Estonia fall predominantly into the period of the 1940s and 1950s. During that time, as a result of violent aggression, Estonia was occupied by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, contrary to international law. Estonia as a state was temporarily prevented from fulfilling its international commitments due to the occupations. The occupation regimes themselves were the least interested in bringing their policy of systematic repression into the light. Even though the racist policy practised by Nazi Germany who had lost World War II and the implications thereof were subject to legal assessment at Nürnberg by the victor states, the same issue concerning the activities of the Soviet regime that had repressed its own citizens and citizens of other countries with at least as much brutality was not raised until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Only in the re-established Republic of Estonia as a sovereign country, which recognizes the operating principles of a democratic state, has it become possible to investigate objectively crimes against humanity committed in the 20th century and to prosecute the offenders.

Accordingly, over the last 15 years the Internal Security Service has investigated crimes against humanity committed under the occupation regimes of both the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany. It has been a complicated task where the temporal distance between the events and the present day has been pivotal. First and foremost it means that several persons regarding whom there was reason to suspect the commission of crimes against humanity were already dead or according to the expert assessment not capable of standing trial by the beginning of the 1990s when the investigations started. Many of the eyewitnesses of these events were also missing or dead by that time, not to mention the documents destroyed in the tumult of war, without which the precise reconstruction of the criminal act is impossible.

Summary

Over the years altogether 12 criminal cases have been prosecuted in Estonian courts under the section of crime against humanity and 11 persons have been convicted:

  • 1) 8 persons convicted of the March deportation of 1949 (J. Klaassepp, V. Beskov, M. Neverovski, V. Loginov, J. Karpov, A. Kolk, V. Kask and P. Kislõi).
  • 2) 3 persons convicted of murdering forest brothers (K.-L. Paulov, V. Penart and R. Tuvi).
  • 3) No person prosecuted for crimes against humanity has been acquitted.