Latvian World War II Veteran Wins Appeal to Rights Court

STRASBOURG, France — The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of a Russian World War II partisan contesting a Latvian conviction for war crimes committed under the Nazi occupation, the court said on Thursday.

Vasiliy Kononov, an 85-year-old Latvian who was granted Russian citizenship in 2000, was convicted in April 2004 of murdering Latvian civilians during the war and was sentenced to a year and eight months in jail.

The case outraged many Russians, who saw him as a brave partisan fighting the Nazi armies that devastated the Soviet Union. Former Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Kononov occasional notes, such as one to wish him a happy new year.

"The Court considered that the applicant could not reasonably have foreseen on 27 May, 1944, that his acts amounted to a war crime under the international rules governing conduct in war applicable at the time," it said in a statement.

"There was, therefore, no plausible legal basis in international law on which to convict him of such an offence," it said, adding that national law could not serve as a basis for his conviction in 2004 either.

Kononov was part of a group of partisans who raided and burned homes in a Latvian village after they found weapons supplied by Germany there. In all, nine people were killed — six men and three women, one of whom was pregnant.

Kononov said the victims were all Nazi collaborators who had handed 12 partisans, including women and a child, over to the Germans. Challenging the Latvian ruling, he argued that his actions did not amount to a crime at the time.

In its 4-3 ruling, the court also awarded Kononov 30,000 euros ($47,010) in damages.