Lennart Meri, President of the Republic of Estonia, convened the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against Humanity on 2 October 1998. Minister Max Jakobson, who is also the Chairman of the Commission, as well as Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Dr. Paul Goble, Nicholas Lane, Professor Peter Reddaway and Arseny Roginsky gave their consent to participate in the work of the Commission. At the end of October 1998, also Professor Freiherr Wolfgang von Stetten agreed to participate in the work of the Commission.
At the Commission's first meeting on 26 and 27 January 1999, the investigation of crimes against humanity committed against the Estonian citizens or on the territory of the Republic of Estonia during the occupation of the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany, was set down as the main objective of the Commission's work. It is the aim of the Commission to establish the attendant circumstances of crimes against humanity, and also the relevant historical background. The results of the Commission's work shall be published as the Commission's reports in English, so that the information gathered by the Commission will also be available to the international public.
"The creation of this commission reflects our hope in Estonia that shining the bright light of truth on some of the tragedies of the past will not only contribute to reconciliation within our society and its further reintegration into the international community of nations but also help to prevent the repetition of such tragedies elsewhere. This commission is committed to setting out in as clear terms as possible what crimes against humanity happened in Estonia. It is committed to overcoming the stereotypes about groups that were the basis of many of these crimes: After all, most of these crimes were possible only because some governments and movements used stereotypes in place of the uniqueness of the human person in their dealings with others. It is committed to eliminating any double standards in the assessment of particular events. Crimes against humanity are crimes against humanity regardless of who commits them. And it is committed to compiling a record sufficiently well-documented and complete that no one will be able to deny what happened or to avoid facing up to the facts.
The commission is not and does not intend to act as a judicial or prosecutorial body. Its members are not judges and do not intend to act as such. They are not trying to compile a set of facts in order to launch judicial actions against anyone or any institution, either here in Estonia or elsewhere. Any decision to take such a step properly lies exclusively with the legal system of the Republic of Estonia and with the institutions of international justice."
In their definition of crimes against humanity, the Commission has decided to proceed from the Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court of Rome:
Yet as the Commission is not an instance of justice, but above all a body established for the detection, description and evaluation of the events that happened nearly 60 years ago, also the historical background of the events cannot be overlooked. Neither can the other crimes listed in the Statutes of the International Criminal Court of Rome (the crime of genocide, war crimes, the crime of aggression) be denied due consideration, as they are temporally, spatially and causally linked to the crimes against humanity committed against the citizens of the Republic of Estonia or on the territory of Estonia.
The Commission decided to start the investigation with the period of German occupation 1941-1944. After that, the crimes committed during the Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 shall be investigated, and the work shall be completed with the investigation of crimes committed during the second Soviet occupation starting from 1944.
The programme for the investigation of crimes committed during the German occupation was approved at the second meeting of the Commission on 7 June 1999. The investigation of crimes against humanity committed during the German occupation in 1941-1944 was completed by spring 2001 and the Commission's first report was published in April 2001. The investigation of crimes against humanity committed during the Soviet occupation in 1940-1941 was completed in April 2004. The programme for the investigation of crimes against humanity committed in Estonia from 1944/1945 and later was approved by the Commission at the meeting on 20 January 2006. The investigation will be completed in 2008.
The Commission works in the form of meetings, where the problems occurring in the course of investigation work are discussed and the completed research papers are analysed. At the periods between the meetings, the Commission's work is co-ordinated by the Executive Secretary, who hires the researchers and organises the translation of research papers into English. The researchers are Estonian historians who are going through all the available records in the Estonian archives and in the accessible archives of other countries, as well as the relevant published literature.
The Commission works on the principle of consensus, the possible evaluations and opinions of the Commission are discussed on the meetings. The Commission's report shall be published as several part reports, whereas the second part report shall be published first. A part report consists of an introduction, general part (a survey of the events of given period, evaluations and opinions), of the specific part (research papers on more specific subjects drawn up by the researchers of the Commission) and copies of the documentary records with the enclosed translations.
In publishing the reports, the Commission shall proceed from legal acts, especially the laws and regulations concerning the protection of personal data and archives.