United Nations Opens War Crimes Files to Governments, Researchers

United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar announced Friday the opening of files on more than 40,000 suspected Nazi war criminals to governments and scholars.

His announcement was immediately hailed by Israel, long a proponent of the opening, as “an historic and courageous decision.”

Perez de Cuellar said in a statement read by his spokesman that the decision followed consultations with the 17 former members of the U.N. War Crimes Commission (WCC) between Sept. 22 and Oct. 30, 1987 regarding wider access to the archives.

Until Friday, the files of the long defunct WCC had been accessible only to the governments of United Nations member states. The files are currently located in the U.N. archives in Manhattan.

The secretary general announced Friday that “under the new rules and procedures now approved, the charge files and the related papers will be available to governments for official research into, and investigation and prosecution of, war crimes.

“Access for governments has been broadened. Not only may governments continue to request information on specific individuals, but they now may ask for access for general research.”

OPEN FOR ‘BONA FIDE RESEARCH’

The secretary general further decided that the files “will also be opened for bona fide research by individuals into the history and work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and into war crimes.”

Israeli diplomats here said Friday that the decision to open the files was “a major diplomatic victory for Israel.” Israel has repeatedly demanded since 1986 that the files be opened to public scrutiny.

At first, Australia was the only one of the 17 members of the defunct WCC to support Israel’s request. But gradually, and due in part to Israel’s persistent efforts, all 17 states accepted the Israeli position.

The former members of the WCC are Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, and the United States.

‘NEW CHAPTER IN HOLOCAUST RESEARCH’

In a news conference following the announcement, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, declared that with the opening of the files to scholars and researchers “a new chapter in Holocaust research is beginning today.”

Netanyahu added that opening the files would enable the prosecution of war criminals still at large. “I hope that many governments will act now to bring war criminals to justice,” he said.

The Israeli envoy said that his government was satisfied with the secretary general’s decision because Israel’s major demands have been met.

Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld joined Netanyahu at his news conference. She called on the Syrian government to extradite Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, who has been living in Damascus since the late 1950s. (See related story.) Brunner was Adolf Eichmann’s deputy in the SS and was personally responsible for the deportation and execution of hundreds of thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike.

NEXT STORY