Thursday, August 16, 2012

Charles Zentai case is the last straw

From The Australian, 16 August 2012, by Nicola Berkovic and Cameron Stewart: 

Nazi-hunters say the decades-long push to bring World War II war criminals living in Australia to justice all but ended yesterday with the High Court's ruling against Charles Zentai's extradition to Hungary.
The 90-year-old Perth man had been accused of beating a Jewish teenager to death and throwing his body in the Danube River in Nazi-occupied Budapest in November 1944.
Yesterday, the High Court ruled that the government could not order Mr Zentai's extradition to Hungary because the offence of "war crime" did not exist under Hungary's laws in 1944.
The decision draws to a close the era of Nazi war crimes prosecutions in Australia - a troubled hunt that resulted in [just] four failed court cases over 25 years ...
At its height, from 1987 to 1992, a Special Investigations Unit set up by the Hawke government examined up to 800 cases of suspected Nazi-era war criminals living in Australia...
Some questioned whether Australia's heart was really in the hunt to prosecute crimes committed half a century earlier.
A 2006 US-government commissioned report accused Australia of having "an ambivalent" attitude to hunting Nazi war criminals and a "lack of the requisite political will".
...the ruling infuriated the Jewish community.
Efraim Zuroff, from the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, labelled it a black day for Australian justice and a terrible day for survivors of the Holocaust.
...not one attempt to bring accused Nazi war criminals in Australia to justice had succeeded, and he believed it was now the end of the line.
"We are up against obstacles that are simply impossible," Mr Zuroff said. "If there is no judicial will to bring the criminals from World War II to justice in Australia, then it won't happen."
...In a 5-1 decision, the High Court said ... that, although the offence of murder existed in Hungary in 1944, Hungary had not requested Mr Zentai's extradition for murder; rather, it had requested his extradition for the offence of "war crime".
Dissenting judge Dyson Heydon said that point was an "extremely technical one". Justice Heydon said that if Mr Zentai was returned to Hungary and convicted, an accurate answer if someone later asked him what he was convicted for was "beating a Jew to death in Budapest in 1944".
"The questioner could equally accurately answer: 'That's murder. That was certainly an offence in Hungary in 1944'," Justice Heydon said.
Hungary enacted laws in 1945 that retrospectively introduced the war crimes offence....

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