Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 07:36 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 07:36 | SYDNEY

War crimes extradition reveals rot


Fergus Hanson


13 November 2009 16:12

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor yesterday announced he had agreed to allow Australia's first ever extradition of a suspected war criminal. What should be a welcome first unfortunately also highlights the hopelessness of our current policy settings in this area. The accused is in his 80s and faces charges alleged to have been committed during the Second World War.

The problem is with leaving things this late — a consequence of prolonged government inertia. When the government tried to run Nazi trials in the late 80s and early 90s, the trails failed largely because of the enormous time lapse between the alleged crimes and the proceedings. This was despite the government unit set up to investigate the allegations finding 27 cases where it 'was satisfied that the suspect had committed serious war crimes but was not able to gather sufficient evidence for prosecution under the War Crimes Act'.

The time lag for the present case is even longer and from the information available on the public record it would seem that there are no living witnesses to the alleged acts, making a conviction difficult. This underlines the fact Australia needs to start developing mechanisms for dealing with allegations at an early stage and in a consistent manner.

As Mark Ierace and I recently argued in this opinion piece, a good start would be looking at international trends in this area. The UK is the latest country to jump on the bandwagon by introducing legislation to push back the date from which British citizens and residents can be prosecuted for war crimes. Border screening also needs fairly urgent attention and the AFP needs a small, dedicated capacity.

While Australia might have failed to do anything about Nazi war crimes suspects living here it doesn't have to remain a safe haven for modern war criminals.