NEW YORK (Nov. 1)
The 17 former member states of the Allied War Crimes Commission have finally agreed to a plan to open its files on more than 40,000 Nazi war criminals to public inspection. Eyal Arad, a spokesman for the Israel Mission to the United Nations, said in a telephone interview Sunday that the mission had not been informed of the news, but had been able to confirm reports about the commission’s decision that appeared Saturday in the New York Times.
Arad said U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar will announce the decision when he returns from Europe this week and is virtually certain to authorize opening the files, which officially are under his jurisdiction.
“The secretary general is not bound by any recommendations” of the commission, Arad said. But he added that Perez de Cuellar “told us that he wants to open the files. There’s no point in dragging his feet any further,” he said, now that the commission has decided.
Until now, the files of the long-defunct War Crimes Commission have been accessible only to the governments of member states of the United Nations. Israel has been pressing for some time that they be open to scholars, researchers, writers and journalists.
Initially, most of the 17 former member states of the commission were opposed. One by one they fell in line, however, and after several meetings over the last two months unanimous agreement was reached on a formula for public access.
Under the reported plan, responsibility for granting access will be transferred from the secretary general to the United Nations member governments, which will be free to authorize their citizens to inspect the files, stored at the United Nations archives on Park Avenue South, Manhattan.
‘IMPORTANT VICTORY’ FOR ISRAEL
Commenting on the commission’s decision, Binyamin Netanyahu, ambassador of Israel to the United Nations, said, “This is an important victory over those who would distort and deny the terrible truths mankind should never forget if it is to retain its humanity.”
Arad said the decision is likely to enhance Israel’s standing in the international community. “We showed the world we have the power to pursue goals we believed in” and that “we can get what we want.” He added, “We were helped immensely in our campaign by many Jewish organizations.”
Responsibility for the files was transferred to the United Nations in 1948, after the War Crimes Commission completed its investigations. Israel’s campaign gained momentum when Kurt Waldheim, a former secretary general of the United Nations, was elected president of Austria in the summer of 1986, after a campaign during which Jewish groups, mainly the World Jewish Congress, exposed the Nazi past which he had concealed for 40 years.
Waldheim is one of the 25,000 names on the list of so-called Class A suspects in the war crimes file against whom the commission felt it had sufficient evidence to prosecute. The list provides one-line summaries of the background of the suspects and the accusations against them.
Arad said the opening of the files will facilitate the prosecution of wanted Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner who now lives in Syria. The Syrian government has refused to comply with an extradition warrant issued by the West German government years ago.
“We want to revive the whole issue and hopefully bring international pressure on Syria to release Brunner,” Arad said. He observed that it was “not surprising” that Brunner lives in Syria. Noting that Amnesty International recently re leased a report on the use of torture in Syria, he said, “Where else could he feel at home?”
Brunner, whose file is in the archives, reportedly told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview that he doesn’t regret anything. He still lashes out against Jews.
Commenting on the decision to open the files, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, called it “long overdue.” He said the center has prepared a list of suspected war criminals still at large and would be asking for information about them when the files are opened.