Dealing with War Crimes and Genocide Commited on Latvian Territory
The friendship treaty signed by the USSR and Germany on August 23, 1939 which has gone down in the history as the Molotov - Ribbentrop pact destroyed the independence of several East European states. The totalitarian empires that sixty years ago carved up the national territories of independent states have now collapsed, but a lot of suffering from the crimes commited by the signatories of the pact have remained.
The Latvian state and its citizens suffered from two totalitarian states.
Soviet repressions Right after the occupation of Latvia in 1940 the USSR started repressions against Latvians. It was a continuation of the genocide against Latvians living in the Soviet Union which had begun in 1937 and 1938. Repressions manifested themselves as direct repressions - arrests, deportations to the Far East of the USSR, murders - as well as indirect ones - dismissal, reprisals of economic nature. KGB archives contain information about 7292 persons arrested during Soviet occupation in 1940-1941 for "fighting against revolutionary movement and the working class". During the Soviet reoccupation in 1944-1945 18.438 persons were arrested. Two waves of mass deportations of the people of Latvia took place during the Soviet regime -14.194 persons were deported on June 14, 1941 and on March 25, 1949 this number was 42.133.
War crimes During the German attack in 1941 only some 15.000 Jews managed to evacuate to the East. Immediately extermination of Jews started. Germany's genocide of Latvia's Jews in 1941 was a continuation of the genocide against Jews in Germany which had assumed large proportions by 1938. Some Latvians (the notorious Arajs commando) were also involved in murdering of Jewish population. The Jews who were not shot, were sent to concentration camps. Out of those only about 1000 survived. Some 300 Jews were saved by the local population. 65 Latvians who helped to save Jews during the Nazi occupation of Latvia have received Israel's highest award to non-Jews ("Righteous among Nations"). Latvian Þanis Lipke who saved 55 Jews stands out among them. 26 Latvians have received awards from the Government of Latvia for saving Jews during World War II. A number of those who provided shelter to Jews were found and executed for defiance of Nazi ordinances. Between 1941 and 1945 the Nazi German occupation forces planned and organized the mass murder of over 100.000 Latvian citizens out of a pre-war population of 1.5 million. At least 60.000 of those killed were of Jewish origin. The Germans shipped 21.000 Jewish prisoners to Latvia from other parts of Europe, and over half of these prisoners were executed on Latvian soil. As a result of the holocaust Latvia lost over 90% of its pre-war Jewish population.
During the German occupation Latvia's Jews and Latvians were the main victims of annihilation, but Gypsies, Germans, Russians and Poles suffered heavily too.
During the World War II Nazi forces were not the only side committing war crimes and crimes againsts humanity. The Soviet Union had inspired guerrilla warfare in Latvia. Red partisans were especially active in the eastern part of Latvia; some of the units not only fought German occupational troops but also committed crimes against the local population.
After the reestablishment of Soviet occupation several hundred Latvian residents involved in committing war crimes during German occupation on Nazi side were sentenced by the Soviet courts.
Dealing with War Crimes and Genocide
Political Framework On May 4, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia restored the independence of Latvia and recognized the supremacy of international law over national law. On the same day the Declaration on the Accession of the Republic of Latvia to international instruments relating to human rights was adopted. The Declaration prescribed that the Republic of Latvia would accede to the Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of December 9, 1948, to the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity of November 26, 1968 and to the Principles of International Cooperation in the Detection, Arrest, Extradition and Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity of December 3, 1973.
On September 13, 1990 the Supreme Council of Latvia adopted the Declaration about the Condemnation and Unallowability of Genocide and Anti-Semitism in Latvia which condemned the genocide against the Jewish people realized during Hitler's occupation of Latvia. The declaration acknowledged that Latvia's citizens were also among those who realized this occupant-inspired genocide. The Supreme Council declared 4th of July as Remembrance Day of Jewish Genocide.
Legal Framework A year later Latvia joined two 1949 Geneva conventions - the Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
A new type of crimes was included in Criminal Law of Latvia - genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, violence against population in territory of hostilities. Punishment for the first three crimes prescribes sentences up to life imprisonment. Criminal Law condemns these crimes regardless of the ideology in whose name such crimes were perpetrated, - whether Nazi or Communist - and regardless of the ethnicity of the perpetrator.
In 1991 and 1992 the Latvian General Prosecutor's Office concluded an agreement with law enforcement institutions of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the USA and New Zealand on co-operation in investigation of war crimes and capturing of Nazi war criminals.
Two institutions deal with detection of war crimes in Latvia - Prosecutor General's Office and a special institution - Documentation Centre of Totalitarian Regimes. The centre is empowered to collect evidence to article persons for committing crime of genocide. The Prosecutor's General Office has decided to increase the staff of the Division for Crimes of Totalitarian Regimes and resources allocated to the investigation of war crimes.
Trials of Perpetrators During the Soviet period several hundred of Latvian residents who had participated in war crimes during the Nazi occupation were sentenced.
After regaining independence Latvian law enforcement authorities have investigated the crimes of war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity of both occupation regimes. Persons can be prosecuted on the basis of evidence and in the legal framework. Latvia regards crimes against humanity as crimes without a statute of limitations. Latvia is ready to prosecute persons whose guilt in these crimes is proved in accordance with national and international law.
The former head of Soviet Latvia Security police (NKVD) Alfons Noviks was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1995 for organizing deportations of Latvian population. The former Soviet Security Officer Mihails Farbtuhs was sentenced for committing the same crime to seven years in prison in 1999. Later the court reduced the jail term from seven years to five. Vasilijs Kononovs is the third Soviet-era war criminal convicted in Latvia. He was sentenced in January 2000 to six years in prison for the murder of nine civilians in 1944. At present the Supreme Court of Latvia has sent his case for reconsideration.
Latvia is ready to try war criminals of both warring sides of World War II. In December 2000 Latvia asked Australia to extradite Australian citizen Konrads Kalejs for his wartime activities in Nazi auxiliary police unit in Latvia. Latvia has started criminal proceedings against Australian citizen Karlis Ozols who may have been involved in crimes on Latvian territory during World War II. The criminal proceedings have been initiated on the basis of materials acquired in the result of international co-operation because K.Ozols like K.Kalejs is residing in Australia at the moment.
Work with Future Generations It is of critical importance that Latvia continues the Holocaust research as well as the study of war crimes. The Latvian Commission of Historians was established in 1998 with a goal to promote research of XX century history of Latvia paying special attention to analysis of both occupational regimes and crimes against humanity committed by these regimes. The members of the Commission are experts from Latvia, the USA, the UK, Germany, Sweden, France and Israel. The Commission is preparing the final report "Crimes against humanity during two occupations of Latvia in 1940-1956".
The Ministry of Education and Science has included lessons on Holocaust in teaching programmes of Latvian secondary schools. Holocaust issues are part of history final exams at schools. In April 2000 the Latvian Commission of Historians in co-operation with the Ministry of Education and Science and the Association of Teachers organized seminar on Holocaust for teachers of history.
Both highest officials and academicians of the Republic of Latvia regularly take part in international conferences on Holocaust issues. During her speech in Holocaust conference in Stockholm on January 27, 2000 State President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga stressed that "Latvia holds no statute of limitations on these crimes and is committed to the prosecution and punishment of those found guilty through the due process of law. We stand ready to receive any additional evidence that will help us to initiate criminal proceedings against any individual suspected of committing war crimes in Latvia. At this moment in history, Latvia is engaged in consolidating a free, open and democratic society. For only democracy allows us to shape our future, and to make it truly ours. We need to reevaluate it, so that we may learn its lessons, and ensure that the worst errors of the past may never ever be repeated."