Russian Federation Violates International Law in Investigation of Smolensk Crash

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – A November 11, 2011 Status Report was released by a multidisciplinary team of experts which presents evidence that demonstrates Russia’s violation of international law during the investigation of the April 2010 aircraft crash which killed the Polish President, First Lady and many other Polish officials.

The PFL 101 Governmental Plane that carried the Polish President and his wife which crashed in April 2010 (Courtesy of The Guardian)

In April 2010 a PFL 101 Governmental Plane carried the Polish President, First Lady, and 95 others from Poland to Russia where it crashed at Smolensk military airfield. The aircraft was on its way to commemorate the Massacre of Katyn where 20,000 Polish officers were murdered under the Stalin regime.  According to the BBC, it was “the nation’s worst disaster since World War Two.”

Because the crash occurred in Russia, the Russians spearheaded the investigation into the cause of the accident yet seemingly wanted to involve and include Poland in the inquiry. Pursuant to the Chicago Convention, the Republic of Poland and the Russian Federation entered into an agreement which provided that the Russian Federation, as the State of Occurrence, would be in charge of and conduct the investigation, while the Republic of Poland would appoint an Accredited Representative to participate in the investigation.  In other words, the two countries agreed to work together and collaborate in the investigation of the aircraft crash.

Unfortunately, despite the willingness of both countries to enter the agreement, the agreement was fundamentally violated by the Russian Federation thereby leaving the Republic of Poland unable to fulfill its obligations as proscribed by the Chicago Convention. The Polish Accredited Representative “filed numerous motions and requests with respects to the investigation” in accordance with the Chicago Convention; yet, out of 222 inquiries that Poland filed only 34 were answered. According to the Status Report, “the Russian Federation ignored or refused to acknowledge 169 inquiries, and partially answered 19 inquiries.”

The laundry list of information that the Russian Federation failed to provide is extensively long. The Status Report outlines the denied information in great detail.  In short, the Federation failed to provide vital information regarding “the assessment of the minimum airdrome conditions at the Smolensk airport, a request for video recordings of radar display readings, a request for photographic documentation from the crash scene, a request for data of the fly-around performed soon after the crash, and requests for inspection of communication and navigation aids.” Furthermore, the Russian Federation failed to provide “documentation of forensic examinations of the aircraft crew” or the report of the inspection of the crash site. The Polish side has not received information regarding any rescue actions at the scene of the crash nor any “transcripts of communication or situational plans, reports of participants of the rescue and fire- fighting teams, photographic documentation, including film footage, which is essential for proper assessment of the security level of the airfield. Failing to provide this critical information inhibited Poland from reaching its own conclusions regarding the ultimate cause of the crash.

Though Russia has withheld this critical information from Poland, the Russian investigation concluded in January and determined that the cause of the crash was the “pilot’s decision to attempt to land despite extremely poor visibility caused by dense fog at the airfield.” Not all agree that this conclusion is likely to be entirely comprehensive or even true. The late Polish President’s brother, Jasoslaw Kaczynski, believes that the Russians “bear direct responsibility for the crash.” Furthermore, an opinion pole conducted last week shows that 78% of those who responded believe that “the circumstances of the crash have not been fully cleared up.”  

The Republic of Poland, “as the State having suffered fatalities of its President, First Lady, nine generals and the top leadership” deserves access to the truth. The Country has a right to the “relevant factual information” of the crash. The Chicago Convention provides that the “State of Occurrence shall use every means to facilitate the investigation…and…establishes the responsibility of the state conducting the investigation.” Having signed the agreement pursuant to the Chicago Convention, the Federation of Russian has a legal duty and responsibility to comply with international law. The Federation must properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash; it must allow access to not just some, but all of the relevant evidence surrounding the tragic plane crash and allow Poland to reach its own conclusions.

For more information please visit:

The Guardian – Smolensk Air Crash–A Year On and the Scars are Yet to Heal – 7 April 2011

BBC – Division Mars Poland’s Smolensk Plane Crash Anniversary – 9 April 2011

Author: Impunity Watch Archive