|01-25-2007, 05:47 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Meeting called on opening Nazi archive
Meeting called on opening Nazi archive
Meeting called on opening Nazi archive By ARTHUR MAX, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jan 24, 4:37 PM ET
Eleven nations controlling a long-secret archive of Nazi documents will hold an unscheduled meeting to assess how quickly the files can be opened to researchers, officials said Wednesday.
The informal meeting, to be held in The Hague in early March, will set the stage for the annual session two months later of the International Commission, the decision-making body that supervises the massive storehouse of concentration camp records and other Nazi material in the German town of Bad Arolsen.
The preparatory meeting was unusual, and reflected impatience among some delegations at the prospect of a lengthy legal process before the files become accessible.
A Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was called in response to requests by several delegations to follow up on the groundbreaking decision last May to make material available for the first time for Holocaust research.
That decision must be ratified by all 11 countries before access is granted — unless the 11 delegations unanimously agree to circumvent formal procedures, according to the Dutch delegation which holds the rotating chairmanship.
The archives, set up by the Allies after World War II, have been sheltered from public scrutiny for 60 years, except for use by the Red Cross to trace missing people after the war, and later to validate victims' compensation claims. The records contain 17.5 million names.
Dutch spokesman Gijs Gerlag said delegates had asked to review the ratification process and to discuss when and how material will become accessible.
"There is no formal agenda. Anyone can raise any issue he wants to discuss," he said.
U.S. delegate Paul Shapiro, speaking from Washington, said the meeting would examine "alternative paths" to open the archives while the ratification process continues.
"The path chosen is the one with the prospect for the most delay," he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has run the tracing service since 1955, under an agreement among the 11 countries — Germany, the United States, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland and Italy.
So far, only Israel and the United States have formally adopted the agreement to open the archive. Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland have indicated their parliaments could ratify the treaty before the next annual meeting in May.
Several members of the U.S. Congress have called on the other governments to endorse the agreement as soon as possible.
For nearly a decade, the group had wrangled over objections that disclosure would violate the privacy of some victims. The breakthrough came last year when Germany softened its opposition.
Announcing that shift last April, German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries told reporters agreement among the member states should take no more than six months. Expectations that the archive would be accessible to researchers by year's end soared.
But not all 11 countries agreed to an immediate opening and several delegations insisted on unanimous ratification, according to several delegates at the meeting.
Dutch delegate Liesbeth Lijnzaad, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's legal department, said earlier this month that three years would be a normal time frame for such a procedure.
Meanwhile, preparations have been going ahead to prepare the material for broader access.
Technical experts met at Bad Arolsen in September and will meet again in February to discuss the logistics of transferring digital copies of the files — estimated at 50 million pages — to the archives of any of the 11 countries that wants one. So far, about 63 percent of the files have been scanned or digitized.
Also to be decided is the financing of making the material available. Under the 1955 agreement, Germany has funded the International Tracing Service, but it objects to paying the added cost of copying and transferring files, which it says goes beyond its treaty obligations.