UNITED NATIONS, NOV. 6 -- The files of the U.N. War Crimes Commission, which detail accusations against 25,000 individuals considered to warrant prosecution for their actions during World War II, were opened to public scrutiny for the first time today.
Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar announced the decision today, and it was hailed by Israeli Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu, who campaigned for more than a year to win support for public access to the files from the 17 governments that had formed the commission until it was disbanded in 1948.
"This opens a new chapter in Holocaust research," Netanyahu said at a news conference. "It is tremendously important, both for justice . . . and for historical truth."
Israeli experts estimate that 2,500 of the suspected war criminals that the commission classified as indictable may still be at large.
Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, who attended the Israeli ambassador's news conference, said broader access would help bring criminals such as Alois Brunner to justice. Brunner, 75, lives in Syria. He was a deputy to Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was executed by Israel in 1962. Klarsfeld presented an extradition plea to a Syrian delegate in the U.N. General Assembly chamber today.
The new rules immediately grant governments the right to study the files "for general research." Until now, governmental access was granted only in confidence, for official investigation or prosecution of individuals.
The most important rule change, however, is that the full dossiers and related papers will be opened "for bona fide research by individuals." It will be up to each government to forward applications from its citizens.
American officials said requests from historians, researchers and journalists would be endorsed with minimal delay. The U.N. application, however, requires an "appropriate introduction" from a research institute, university or "relevant professional society."