U.N. Orders Investigation into 400 Missing War Crimes Files

United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar ordered a full investigation Tuesday into reports that more than 400 files are missing from the U.N. war crimes archives.

Perez de Cuellar acted after the New York Post published a report Tuesday by Uri Dan, its Mideast correspondent, that the previously sealed war crimes files have “mysteriously vanished.” Dan was the first journalist allowed access to the files since the secretary general ordered them opened to the public Nov. 23.

The director of the archives, Alf Erlandsson, confirmed Tuesday that 432 files have “somehow disappeared.” The secretary general said he has appointed Richard Foran, U.N. assistant secretary general for general services, to conduct the investigation.

According to a statement released Tuesday by a U.N. spokesman, the secretary general “was surprised and disturbed to learn, through press reports and for the first time, that a number of files of the United Nations War Crimes Commission archives are missing.” The archives are stored in a building in midtown Manhattan.

IMMEDIATE INVESTIGATION

The spokesman said the investigation would start immediately and, he believes, will be concluded quickly. The results will be made public.

He said that, among other things, it will “seek to determine whether the files in question were separated from the archives while they were in U.N. custody, or whether they were ever received by the United Nations when it was first given custody of the archives” in 1947 by the now defunct Allied War Crimes Commission.

The U.N. spokesman said the investigation will try to determine “whether the files in question concern ‘adjourned or withdrawn cases’ which were filed separately.” These may be files that at one point or another were legally withdrawn from the archives for reasons not specified.

The files contain documents on more than 40,000 people suspected of committing war crimes during World War II. Until last month, the files were accessible only to the governments of U.N. member states. The secretary general, who has sole custody of the files, ordered them opened to scholars, researchers, historians and other members of the public.

This was a major victory for Israel, which had been campaigning vigorously for more than a year to make the files accessible to the public. The Israelis finally prevailed on the 17 former members of the War Crimes Commission to grant their assent.

‘A SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT’

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who led the effort, said Tuesday, “The revelation of missing files is a shocking development. It means that vital information concerning the greatest criminals in history may have been destroyed. It proves again the importance of releasing these documents from the veil of secrecy that has shielded them for many years.”

In his report in the Post, Dan did not say what files he was looking for. He reported that “numerous microfilmed files were marked ‘Missing Registered Number’ ” and that they included Yugoslavian documents relating to the wartime activities of President Kurt Waldheim of Austria.

He said Erlandsson confirmed that the missing files included 123 submitted by France; 51 by Britain; 20 by Yugoslavia; two by the United States and an undetermined number by Belgium. All concerned charges of atrocities committed by Germans.

Netanyahu said the missing files might be retrievable “from other sources” since the U.N. records are summaries of documents in various national archives.

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