Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

War crime or state crime

At the tail end of last week, John Demjanjuk was found guilty of Nazi war crimes. Faced with a 5-year prison sentence, Demjanjuk’s team appealed, thereby, prolonging any sense of justice for those that feel that he has something to answer for. It also prolongs his own sense of injustice. Demjanjuk has spent almost 10  years in jail, including 7 years that he spent falsely imprisoned following his conviction for being ‘Ivan the Terrible’. This sentence was later quashed on grounds of mistaken identity.
Demjanjuk is said to have been a prison guard at the concentration camp in Sobibor. The prosecution’s case against him relied on an SS identity card and other written records as evidence of his presence there. However, he was not accused of perpetrating any specific war crimes. Instead, he was accused of being present at the time that atrocities were being committed, and therefore, an accessory to mass murder.

Nazi war crimes expert, Professor Christiaan RĂ¼ter, is reported in The Guardian as describing Demjanjuk as "the littlest of the little fishes". Demjanjuk was formerly a Red Army soldier, who was later allegedly captured and taken as a prisoner of war by the Wehrmacht, before being trained as a prison guard. His defence claimed that he worked as a prison guard rather than face the consequences. In other words, he did what anyone else in his situation would have done to survive. It is important to note that the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish, ethnic minority Ukrainians living in Poland. Sobibor is a Polish village that borders Ukraine.

In Crime: Local and Global, Green and Ward state that it is important to recognise that:

State violence needs to be understood both as an expression of state power, and as comprising individual acts of aggression with complex social and psychological relations to other forms of interpersonal violence’.

Is what Demjanjuk alleged to have done an act of individual malice? Or can it be understood within a framework of state violence and power, and therefore, a state crime?

In the UK, Demjanjuk has garnered more attention than other cases involving alleged war criminals. In Germany once again, they are prosecuting  2 Rwandan Hutu leaders accused of organising atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why has this media story received less exposure when the UK is said to be the home of hundreds of suspected war criminals?

The UK Border Agency considers that there are 383 suspected war criminals resident in the UK, with 47 being thought of as worth further investigation by the Metropolitan police (The Met). Between February 1992 and January 2011, a total of 41 cases, that might be thought of as war crimes or crimes against humanity, have been referred to The Crown Prosecution Service. According to Michael McCann MP, who is Labour chair of the parliamentary group for the prevention of genocide and other crimes against humanity, few have been investigated because:

"The biggest problem is the lack of resources dedicated to investigating these serious cases and that we often don't know where these individuals are. It means that if an arrest warrant is issued there is little likelihood it can be served."

Hold on. Enough resources are available for the Met to review the Madeleine McCann case. And, are suspects normally at their registered address when the Met come knocking? Or if they are not, do they telephone The Met like a loyal partner, and explain where they are and when they will come home? The UK’s supposed inability to investigate war criminals lacks credibility.

We obviously still remain interested in the pursuit of Nazi war crimes; hence the media coverage. This imbalanced approach to reporting of what is a war crime, and who war criminals, are got me thinking. I theorise that, had the Holocaust that was perpetrated in Rwanda been committed in Europe, that the UK government would have ensured that war criminals were charged and tried in the UK. The public would have cried out for justice to be done.  The press and online media would have been providing regular updates on the trials and would have added their significant voices to calls for justice.

It is enshrined in human rights legislation that each person be given a fair trial. Equally, each victim should have the right to justice following any fair trial. The UK government’s disinterested approach implies that they are unwilling to proffer such trials to those accused of war crimes. If they are the principle suspects of mass murder, let alone accomplices or accessories (like Demjanjuk), the state’s wilful ignorance of such injustices causes harm to their victims from the likes of Rwanda, Iraq and Sri Lanka. For me, this disregard of their juridical rights is a state crime. 

Article first published on the-pryer.co.uk.
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