Haven for war suspects
The Age (Melbourne)
January 14, 2007
SUSPECTED war criminals linked to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia are living freely in Australia because the Federal Government refuses to track them down.
Australian authorities have access to information that has led to a wave of arrests in the United States, yet has failed to act.
The US arrests have prompted war crimes experts to accuse the Government of a passive approach to pursuing suspects, who are migrants and Australian citizens.
When pressed by The Sunday Age, a spokesman for federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison was unable to say what the Government was doing to detect suspects.
Former war crimes prosecutor Graham Blewitt said the US arrests contrasted with Canberra's inaction.
And writer Mark Aarons, an expert on war criminals in Australia, accused the Government of indifference to the issue.
Hundreds of Australians are believed to have fought in the Balkan wars.
Two Australians accused of war crimes currently face extradition hearings, but their cases only came to light through media exposure.
Last week Sydney man Antun Gudelj agreed to his extradition to Croatia, where he is accused of killing three officials in 1991.
In another case that only came to light through the media, a Sydney court in March will rule on a Croatian bid to extradite Dragan Vasijikovic on war crimes charges.
Vasijikovic was arrested by the Australian Federal Police in January following a request by Croatia.
Last month US immigration officials arrested 16 men accused of concealing their service in the Bosnian-Serb military during the mid-1990s.
In the US, they face charges of immigration fraud. Similar round-ups in the past have led to deportations, including those of two men now on trial in Bosnia and Herzogovenia, charged with involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
Mr Blewitt, former deputy prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, said that unlike the US, Australia was adopting a passive approach to war crimes.
“As far as people living in Australia and war crimes are concerned, then if someone comes up with the evidence then maybe they (the Government) will look at it,” Mr Blewitt, who is now a NSW Local Court magistrate, told The Sunday Age.
“But they're not going to be proactive in tracking down these alleged war criminals in the same way the US is obviously doing.”
Mr Aarons said he was mystified by the Government's “passivity” towards alleged war criminals. “To tell you the truth, I'm flummoxed by it,” he said.
Mr Blewitt said there was widespread evidence that, as well as migrants, people born in Australian had taken part in atrocities.
“If that happened, as I understand it did, then there's been no effort on the Australian Government's part to take that on as an issue,” he said.
While the Government screens migrants from war zones to prevent war criminals entering the country, it has no active mechanism for checking people already here, unlike the US.
The US arrests came after officials compared immigration records of men who had been allowed into the US with lists of soldiers in units linked to the Srebrenica massacre.
Senator Ellison's spokesman failed to specifically respond when asked if Australia had adopted the US practice.
Nor, in an emailed reply to questions from The Sunday Age, did the spokesman say what the Government was doing to actively detect war crime suspects.
The spokesman said Senator Ellison stood by comments made in April 2004, when he dismissed the need for a special war crimes investigation unit. Instead, such investigations could be handled by the Australian Federal Police.
“Where allegations are raised, they are investigated,” the spokesman said, citing the Government's co-operation with Croatia's bid to extradite Dragan Vasijikovic.
While Mr Blewitt criticised the Government for failing to act on suspects already in Australia, he said Australia was one of the few countries that liaised closely with The Hague tribunal to screen potential migrants wanting to come to Australia.
In late 2005, after media reports of alleged war criminals in Australia, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs set up a war crimes taskforce to review applications for protection visas from people suspected of war crimes.
A department spokesman said the taskforce had reviewed a number of applications but could give no details of specific cases. “The Government is committed to ensuring Australia is not a safe haven for war criminals.”
The Australian connection
WAR CRIME SUSPECTS:
Sydney man and former Croatian police reservist Antun Gudelj, 60, accused of the murder of three Serbian officials in 1991. Arrested following Croatian extradition request, first lodged in 2001. Presence in Australia revealed by the media but arrest delayed by lack of an extradition treaty. Migrated here prior to ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. Returned to Balkans early 1990s, back to Australia about 1995.
Dragan Vasiljkovic, 54, former Serbian militia leader, wanted by Croatia for war crimes including torture and massacre of civilians. Migrated with family to Australia in 1967. Lived in Melbourne and served in army reserve. Returned to Balkans early 1990s then back to Australia. Arrested January 2006 following Croatian extradition request prompted by press reports of his whereabouts. Sydney court to decide in March on his extradition.
Blaz Kraljevic, 45, Croatian militia unit leader accused of war crimes, including “ethnic cleansing”. Lived in Australia, returned to Balkans early 1990s. Fell out with Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban. Killed by Croat gunmen in 1992. Boban later offered an Australian visa. Killing allegedly ordered by Mladen “Tuta Naletilic, who is now serving 20 years for war crimes. Naletilic had also lived in Australia and then Germany before returning to the Balkans.