Foreword

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From Repressions Towards the Rule of Law

Lennart Meri,

President of the Republic of Estonia

International law has been pivotal in the formation of Estonia's fate. It has been the bedrock of the West's policy known as the non-recognition policy: the democratic world has never recognized the incorporation of the Baltic states in the Soviet Union after it had occupied them. In other words, international law sustained the continuity of Estonian statehood through the callous years of Soviet occupation.

Therefore it is only natural that in order to give a legal assessment to this nightmare, still so hard to die, we must again turn to international law. What I mean is the Nuremberg experience. Right after World War II, as an effect of the Nuremberg Trial, international legal standards lay in the foundation of the principle according to which there may be criminal organizations (at that time the National Socialist Labour Party of Germany and several others), but for each member of such a criminal organization justice shall be administered by a court of law on the evidence of the actions or nonfeasance of that particular member.

Why have I drifted to the past in the foreword to this volume?

First: that past, regrettably, still persists as the present in the contemporary world. Totalitarian regimes have stained themselves with the blood of their own people on almost every continent. Moreover, the Nuremberg experience has taught totalitarian regimes to conceal their crimes against humanity.

Second: as I am writing these lines I have to admit that the notion repression of persons, which has become quite an everyday phrase for all of us, to this day lacks a legal definition in the legal acts of the Republic of Estonia.

Third: a court making inquiries into war crimes and cases of genocide has again started work in The Hague, launched by the UN -- a world organization in which the Republic of Estonia is a member. May the Estonian lawyers rate the implications of this fact.

The activities of MEMENTO must be highly appreciated for two reasons. First, this volume and the subsequent ones will immortalize the memory of the citizen of the Republic of Estonia, who has been put to suffering, whose human dignity has been humiliated and abused, who has perished or has been executed through the actions of totalitarian regimes and the criminal organizations conceived by them.

Second, the division of international law that has its roots in Nuremberg has given first signs to the effect that crimes against humanity have to be denounced on a uniform basis rather than on a selective ideological basis.

Through its activities so far, MEMENTO has upheld the right to live as the highest value a person can possess. The largest chapter of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia is devoted to man's fundamental rights, freedoms and duties. MEMENTO has preserved our historical memory, at the same time reinforcing the foundation of international law. Any form of totalitarianism poses a threat to democracy and the rule of law, hence also to security, both national and international. In this sense the significance of MEMENTO's everyday work as well as of this volume is by far wider and more topical than the mere perpetuation of the distressful past.

Kadriorg, 12 July 1996