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SOAS scholar’s campaign for greater access to UNWCC archive triumphs

7 November 2013

Dr Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at SOAS, University of London, has succeeded in leading a campaign for a full copy of the archive documenting thousands of cases against accused World War II criminals in Europe and Asia.

The UNWCC Nazi-era restricted files will be given to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. They contain some 30,000 sets of pre-trial documents submitted by national and military tribunals to judge whether the case should be pursued, according to Dr Plesch.

This follows success earlier this summer where thousands of crimes cases from World War II became available online, as a result of the same campaign. More than 2,200 documents from an archive housed at the United Nations became accessible following an agreement between the International Criminal Court and the UN.

UNWCC nazi crime cinema


The files contain details of many charges of crimes that are not being prosecuted extensively today. Dr Plesch explained: “The importance of the release of this material is that it will make it much easier to bring modern war criminals to book, whether leaders or foot soldiers, for a wider range of crimes.

“This is because the archive contains a greater variety of legal judgments than the narrow base of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials" for major World War II war criminals, Plesch added. "This wider base can support many different types of prosecutions, including rape and forced prostitution."

The SOAS UNWCC project, led by Dr Plesch and Assistant Director Shanti Sattler, recently held a conference at SOAS looking at lessons from the UNWCC and marking the commission’s 70th Anniversary. The transcript of the conference or presentations are available online.

The project is part of a broader project on ‘Wartime History and the UN’ with Prof Thomas G. Weiss of the Ralphe Bunche Institute for International Studies at The Graduate Centre, City University of New York. The ‘Wartime History and the UN’ project is generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Visit www.unwcc.org for more information.