Veteran accused of war crimes hopes to restore reputation in Strasbourg

The European court of Human Rights is to examine the claim of Vasily Kononov, an 84-year-old former Soviet partisan, against the Latvian government for charging him with war crimes. In the year 2000 he was accused of killing civilians in the small settlem

Charges against him, filling some 45 pages, have blighted almost ten years of the man’s life.

“I've been involved in three wars. This was the third one, and the third victory!” Vasily Kononov remembers.

For the 84-year-old colonel in retirement, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to take up his claim against Latvia is a long-awaited victory.

In 1998 he was detained and in the year 2000 sentenced to six years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A year later he was released but the charges against him have never been fully dismissed.

Kononov says this was a political verdict.

“The court proceedings amounted to political mud-slinging that was an outrage against my honor and dignity. There was no sound legal basis. Their only aim was to compromise a war veteran as much as they could, then it would be the easier for them to rewrite the history of the war,” he claims.

In 2004 the details of charges against Kononov were changed from ‘military crimes’ into ‘thuggery’. However in the eyes of the public the case still remained politically charged, as what many saw behind it was the Latvian government's attitude towards Soviet efforts in fighting Nazi Germany.

Kononov says those killed in the settlement of Malye Baty during the war were Nazi collaborators. The Latvian court decided they were civilians.

The decision of the European Court to take up Kononov's claim against Latvia is based on the Human Rights Convention. One of its articles says ‘people cannot be punished for crimes which at the time they were committed were not considered crimes.'

Decades have passed since the war, but now, finally, it seems there'll be a long-awaited resolution to the affair.