Subject: Call to probe local war criminals in Australia

[The full Lowy Institute report (20 pages, 500kb), Confronting reality: responding to war criminals living in Australia, by Fergus Hanson, can be downloaded from - John/ETAN]

The Age

Call to probe local war criminals

Daniel Flitton

February 11, 2009

SIGNIFICANT numbers of war criminals are likely to have taken refuge in Australia, according to a report that calls for a special police squad to investigate suspects.

Breaking with a common view that most offences stem from atrocities during World War II, the Lowy Institute report says criminals from modern conflicts are a far more serious problem in Australia.

"It is likely that Australia is also home to war criminals from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Cambodia, and possibly Rwanda and East Timor," the report says.

"Strong grounds exist for believing Australia has inadvertently admitted a substantial number of these suspected criminals over the years."

But the report concedes that determining the number of suspects living in Australia is impossible.

The Federal Court earlier this month dismissed an application by Australian citizen Dragan Vasiljkovic for a review of a Sydney magistrate's 2007 decision to extradite him to Croatia.

Mr Vasiljkovic, a former Serb paramilitary commander in the early 1990s, is alleged to have ordered a military attack on civilians during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and to have beaten a prisoner of war.

Fergus Hanson, a former diplomat and author of the Lowy Institute report, said Australia had never had a clear policy on suspected war criminals.

"The biggest obstacle to Australia's prosecuting resident war criminals is that there are no dedicated resources to conduct investigations," he writes.

A special unit in the Attorney-General's Department created in 1987 to examine claims of World War II war criminals living in Australia was disbanded in 1992 after charges against three people.

Investigations have since been run by the Australian Federal Police, while the Immigration Department also conducts screening for visa and citizenship applications.

But Mr Hanson said a dedicated war crimes unit should be created.

"This unit could conduct a preliminary inquiry ­ which should include awareness-raising in key communities ­ to ascertain the scale of the problem," he said.

A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus ­ who oversees the federal police ­ said yesterday the Government would examine the report.

"The investigation of war crimes involves complex legal issues that need careful consideration," she said.

The report also calls for Australia to open fresh channels to share information on suspected war criminals with other countries.

It says a stronger Australian approach would also lift the country's credentials in the lead-up to the Government's bid for a UN Security Council seat.

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