George Santayana’s famous adage “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” featured strongly in my mind today as I read through several media cuttings on the release of UN war crimes materials that have been classified since 1949.
Before Nuremberg – before tribunals in Rwanda, Yugoslavia – before the International Criminal Court – there was the United Nations War Crimes Commission.
It was founded in the darkest moments of WWII, a little-known UN agency which identified and assisted national governments trying war criminals in Europe and Asia. It assisted with an unprecedented 30,000+ cases – far more than Nuremberg and International Criminal Court caseloads combined.
The sealing of the archives was a decision drenched in politicisation. And the ramifications of that decision have reverberated throughout the history of the 20th and early 21st century. How different might the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia have looked had the failures of the past not been hidden from the people of the world?
Now, 68 years later, a decade long campaign led by diplomacy expert Dr Dan Plesch has culminated in the release of the archives.
“This heroic WW2 war crimes effort was shut down by Senator McCarthy and his allies and lost to the world for 70 years. As McCarthy is a hero of Donald Trump and he employed a key McCarthy advisor – Roy Cohn – for many years, we could not have a clearer warning of what is at stake today.
“On a positive note, the UNWCC provides an example of fair, prompt and economical justice that tried thousands of low level perpetrators – a revival of this method can complement the turgid processes of the International Criminal Court.”
The catalogue will be available digitally via The Wiener Library based in Bloomsbury, London.
Dan Plesch’s book Human Rights after Hitler is available to buy online.
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