The Missing Link

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Lennart Meri,

President of the Republic of Estonia


Two years ago, the first volume of this work was published. The heading of my foreword to that volume was: “From Repressions towards the Rule of Law”. I think it necessary to add three observations.

First, rule of law is easily destroyed and slowly restored. “From Repressions towards the Rule of Law” could also have been the foreword of the present edition, for this heading contains a long-term programme. The difficulties with the restoration of the rule of law are remarkably similar, even if the methods for its destruction have been different. In Germany, the rule of law was destroyed by parliamentary means, in Russia it was nipped in the bud by the coup of a terrorist clique, in Estonia the destruction was due to the occupations of the totalitarian powers (June 17, 1940; 1941, 1944). It would be naive to assume that an act of capitulation or democratic elections or a constitution enforced by means of referendum (in Estonia, on July 3, 1992) would once and for all restore the rule of law. Only the possibility of the rule of law will be restored, which then has to be patiently implemented both in the legal practice of the state and the legal consciousness of the citizens.


Secondly, any country governed by rule of law can not ignore a single crime perpetrated on its territory. During the years of occupation, when the Republic of Estonia only existed de jure and was unable to guarantee the rule of law on her territory, more than 274,000 acts of violence against the inhabitants of Estonia were perpetrated by the totalitarian states, their administrations and their local collaborationists. For a small nation of one million this number is enormous. The Estonian people have had their own Katyn, their own Buchenwald, their own Lidice. This volume will first and foremost expand the knowledge of the international community of the crimes against humanity committed here in Estonia, but also about the Estonian citizens’ sense of justice – ever since the restoration of our independence in August 1991, the Estonian people have left it to the competent authorities to mete out justice for the local Quislings, although the possibility that those who have committed crimes against humanity are still living in the Republic of Estonia can not be excluded. This law-abiding behaviour demonstrates the dignity of the nation that has restored its independence, and the value of Estonian historical experience. I hope that, as this volume is also available to the international community, it will help to foster democracy and the rule of law also beyond the borders of Estonia.


Thirdly. What is the goal of the present volume? It is, first and foremost, to perpetuate the memory all those who lost their homes, families and lives through the violence of alien totalitarian powers. The crimes against humanity perpetrated in Estonia are a part of the European history and must remain so. Impartial judgement of the organisations, groups and people who are responsible for the sufferings of many hundreds of thousands means above all that we have overcome our past, it means absolution from and reconciliation with our past but not oblivion of the past. The documents gathered between these covers are meant to set down justice, not to enact revenge.


The book has another, even more important goal – the liberation of our present and future from the recurrence of crimes against humanity. We should achieve the situation where no one would have the daring to justify their crimes with the claim that they had orders to fulfil. Furthermore. At the end of this century the global community has reached the understanding that besides dictators also constitutional politicians, state officials and private citizens have perpetrated crimes against humanity, both in wartime and during peace. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the Resolution of the UN General Assembly in December 1948 was no obstacle for the Soviet administration for the perpetration of the greatest deportation ever only three months later in Estonia. The gap between law and reality, between morals and politics, created an Orwellian world where peace could mean war, democracy could mean totalitarianism and freedom could mean slavery. A gap occurred in the international legal system. The missing link could not be provided by International Court of The Hague, which only handled cases between States, not individuals. At the same time the need to prevent and preclude crimes against humanity grew, or, to use the words of Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN: “Many thought that the horrors of the Second World War – the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust – could never happen again. And yet they have.”


The restoration of the rule of law in Estonia has not been an easy task, but the developments have been in concord with the intensifying sense of justice of the democratic world. This is emphasised by the agreement achieved on July 18, 1998, in Rome, to establish the International Criminal Court. The missing link in the international law has been recognised. The new Court’s competence will include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and armed assault. The recognition that human rights must be protected and their violation punishable internationally, is perhaps even more important than the functioning of the Court. The activities of the Estonian NGO “Memento” have proceeded from this conviction: the second volume of “Political Arrests in Estonia under Soviet Occupation” once more emphasises the need for international co-operation in the prevention of crimes against humanity.

Paslepa, 18.07.1998