The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory was established by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in 2008 in order to provide the citizens of Estonia with a thorough and objective account of the status of human rights during the Soviet occupation of Estonia.
The International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity investigated crimes against humanity committed during the German and Soviet occupations, using the definitions set out in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as its yardstick. The Commission completed its work in 2008, with the publication of its second volume of findings, covering the second Soviet occupation which began in 1944. The Institute of Historical Memory will extend the research of the Commission by cataloguing and investigating violations of human rights committed in the Soviet period which do not fall under the legal definition of crimes against humanity.
The research of the Institute will seek to determine the impact of Soviet rule on the human rights of the people of Estonia. Clearly, the results of such research must be measured against a set of standards which define universal human rights. The Institute will therefore take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, as its basis for determining the topics to be researched, and the conclusions to be drawn from the outcome of that research.
It is not part of the Institute’s mission to demonstrate that human rights were violated in Soviet Estonia. Both anecdotal evidence and the broad historical research carried out to date provide proof that this is the case. The Institute will commission research into the details of life under Soviet rule, and intensify the collection of individual memories, in order to determine precisely and without ideological bias how, and to what extent, the human rights of the people of Estonia were violated.
It is of the utmost importance that violations and proscriptions of human rights be understood in the broader context of European history in the 20th century. The Institute’s mission also fulfills an obligation to the citizens of Estonia, so that they may better understand what they themselves or their parents and grandparents endured under Soviet rule.
The Institute is not a judicial body. No legal consequences follow from its findings. Rather, its goal is to establish facts and circumstances which represent violations of human rights during the period under review. The results of the Institute’s research, and its contribution to international debate on this subject, are intended to create a reliable data base for a broader study both of developments within Estonia under Soviet rule, and of their ramifications for modern Estonia and for the whole of Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The work of the Institute is supervised by an International Committee of experts with wide experience in the study of the history of Europe, human rights and political repression. The Committee will approve research topics, as well as the procedures to be used in selecting researchers. Requests for proposals to undertake research on topics selected by the Committee will be widely publicized in the appropriate media. Proposals from scholars will be reviewed by the staff of the Institute.
The Committee will make the final decisions regarding approval of research grants, which are to be awarded based on the academic merit of a scholar’s proposal, and his or her qualifications and experience in the area under study. Grants will be made regardless of nationality.
Once research papers have been reviewed by staff, and submitted to and approved by the Committee, they will be published on the home page of the Institute. Authors of research papers will remain responsible for the content of their work. The Committee will draw its own final conclusions based on the research papers it has approved.
The Committee will meet formally twice a year to discuss the progress of the Institute’s research. Grant approvals, and other documentation, will be processed electronically.