LONDON (Mar. 13)
The British government believes that alleged war criminals living in Britain could be brought to justice as early as this summer.
“Investigations could start as soon as the bill receives royal assent, hopefully in the summer,” said a source in the .
The bill referred to is the War Crimes Bill, a draft of which was introduced in Parliament on Friday. Parliament will vote on the bill, which has only three clauses, again on Monday.
When the subject was debated in Parliament, an overwhelming majority of members were in favor of legislation.
But the bill encountered resistance in the House of Lords, the upper house, and is considered likely to run into some difficulties there again, where a substantial number of peers have expressed strong reservations about prosecuting elderly people whose crimes were committed over 40 years ago.
Some members have also expressed belief that such trials will elicit anti-Semitic expression in Britain.
With approval of this bill, Britain will follow Canada in trying alleged Nazis or Nazi collaborators who tried to find a haven after World War II.
AUSTRALIA ALSO ON THE VERGE
Recently, Australia signaled that it, too, was about to begin the process of trying war criminals living there.
A spokesman for the Parliamentary All-Party War Crimes Group said, “We are delighted that the bill is so short and that it has been introduced so early. It should mean a minimum delay in getting investigations under way.”
In Los Angeles, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, who initiated British investigations into alleged Nazi war criminals living in Britain, expressed cautious hope that trials could begin soon.
“We hope that the government acts expeditiously,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier.
He believes “it should be possible to begin proceedings within three to six months after the legislation is adopted. Any unnecessary delay beyond that point would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal.”
In October 1986, Hier wrote to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher listing Nazi war criminals believed to be living in Britain. The list was leaked to British newspapers, and Scottish Television produced a program about the suspected war criminals.
On Feb. 8, 1988, then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd announced the appointment of an inquiry under the auspices of Sir Thomas Hetherington, a former director of public prosecutions, and William Chalmers, his Scottish counterpart.
The inquiry ruled out some of the entries on the list as cases of mistaken identity.
“At least three of the suspects are known to us,” the Home Office source said, “and others need investigating. The only delay may be in collecting evidence from witnesses living abroad.”
Inquiries will be conducted by a special police unit along the lines of Scotland Yard’s special fraud squad. In addition, the unit will comprise historians, interpreters and lawyers.