JOHANNESBURG (Jul. 28)
Nearly 50 years after the Nuremberg war trials, a Jewish judge from South Africa has been appointed to serve as chief prosecutor of the United Nations tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
But Judge Richard Goldstone, who has long played a leadership role in South Africa’s Jewish community, feels that his Jewishness is irrelevant to his appointment.
Rather, he sees it as a reflection of the speed with which the world community is reaching out to South Africa in the wake of the country’s first all-race elections in April.
“My being Jewish does not affect my attitude and feelings toward the appointment,” he said in a recent interview.
“At the same time, the upholding of human rights is something I regard as crucially important.”
Goldstone, who was named to the Balkan tribunal by the U.N. Security Council in early July, will head the first international war-crimes prosecution since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials were convened after World War II.
Interestingly, his daughter, Nicole Goldstone, who lives in Israel, was one of 20 Israelis who went to South Africa to help monitor the country’s first democratic elections, in April.
Judge Goldstone said he saw his appointment as “a great honor” and said it was “an illustration of how quickly South Africa has been readmitted into the international community.
“It’s a wonderful feeling that South Africans can again contribute to the international organizations in many parts of the world,” he said.
He stressed the need for the tribunal to bring those responsible for perpetrating war crimes in the two-year conflict in Bosnia to trial, adding that if the inquiry succeeds in its mission, “it would be a tremendously important step in the further internationalization of human rights, which is something very close to my heart.”
Goldstone’s appointment ended a four-month search to replace Ramon Escovar Salom, who resigned the post in February to become Venezuela’s interior minister.
THOUSANDS OF DOCUMENTS TO EXAMINE
Among Goldstone’s first duties will be to pore through thousands of pages of documents collected by a special U.N. commission created more than a year ago to investigate war crimes committed during the Bosnian conflict.
He will then issue indictments against suspected war criminals and prosecute them.
In its final report, the U.N. commission accused Serb forces operating in Bosnia of crimes against humanity, genocide and of perpetrating a systematic policy of rape.
Goldstone currently serves on the bench of South Africa’s highest court, the Appeal Court.
He is also prominent in Jewish circles, as vice chairman of the World ORT Union and as honorary life president of ORT South Africa.
In a recent interview, Goldstone said he believed the South African Jewish community is in a particularly good position to assist in the reconstruction of the country’s society.
“Many black people I speak to assume that the Jewish community is more sensitive and more feeling to people who suffered racial discrimination, and I hope that is true.
“It is expected of the Jewish community,” he said.
“I think it is a reason why so many Jews in South Africa involved themselves in the liberation struggle.”
Goldstone’s personal involvement in ORT helped contribute to the country’s transition to a multiracial democracy.
Prior to the acceptance of the country’s liberation movements and the release of their leaders in 1990, World ORT refused to become involved in the apartheid school system in South Africa, despite its need for technical education.
We “can enter into a democratic non-racial South Africa as a Jewish organization and be accepted with open arms,” Goldstone said.