Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Judge Richard Goldstone
"There is a deterrent value"
 real 28k

Thomas Colchran
"Punishing doesn't work"
 real 28k

Emmanuel Dube, USA
"Trials might make people think twice"
 real 28k

Abdul Kumar
"They are too old to prosecute"
 real 28k

Mike Fehle, USA
"If there is evidence, we are obliged to try them"
 real 28k

Mel Huang, Estonia
"If they committed the crime, they should do the time"
 real 28k

Tony Price
"It's a question of where the power lies"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 11:47 GMT
Should we pursue crimes of the past?

Should suspected war criminals be brought to justice, no matter how long it takes? Or is it impractical to pursue crimes of the past?

From Nazi Germany and Pinochet's Chile to Yugoslavia and Rwanda: is it ever too late to call criminals to account? Does justice have a time limit?

Judge Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia answered your questions in our LIVE debate.

Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air

Your comments since the programme

Though old (a retired scientist, male of 73), I still have the letter my mother wrote to me on September the first, 1944 from the concentration camp. She asked me in it " save the soul and the heart by not yielding to hatred, envy and revenge".
Sinisa Maricic

Courts have traditionally refused to hear cases after the passage of a designated period of time and this was connected with the oral nature of most testimony before the court in the past. Today, we have video and any number of ways of preserving testimony in an accurate fashion; such rules should be broadly reviewed and in the case of war-crimes where there are thousands of victims, the statute of limitations should be dropped altogether: there is no sense in regarding a 90 year old mass murderer any differently than a 50 or 30 year old criminal of the same stripe. No state should be free from the purview of the International Court of Justice, and no series of actions within a state should be free from International critique. It is a long road ahead, but we have begun the proper regulation and the limitation of national sovereignty that has been crying out for some sort of boundaries for centuries since the Church was stripped of that important role. One of the first acts of St. Ambrose as the Bishop of the imperial city of Milan was to excommunicate the Emperor Theodosius for massacring the citizens of a rebellious city. The Emperor sought public forgiveness; would that a few public officials today might follow his example.
Virgil Strohmeyer, Armenia (US)

To keep the horror fresh of what was done it is a duty to charge and convict those responsible. When these horrors occurred is not important, those responsible must pay the penalty for the crime.
Shelley Booth, USA

Well after reading all the comments I came to the conclusion that a person is a WAR CRIMINAL only if he/she is considered a WAR CRIMINAL by the west. This is absolute hypocrisy. Sure these western governments will not tag a person a WAR CRIMINAL until and unless they have some benefit out of the publicity. If we as humans are committed to bring all WAR CRIMINALS to justice they let us do it right and not just pick out those whom the west has branded as criminals and work on it.
In my view all the atrocities that the BRITISH did during their colonisation should be considered a WAR CRIME and the "Queen of England " should be brought to trial on these charges. If not no one has a right to brand anyone a war criminal.
Ravi, USA

As long as someone like Kalejs can draw breath unaided he should be tried for the incredible crimes against humanity he is accused of. By deporting suspected war criminals the United Kingdom is telling the world it has better things to do that help bring to justice someone accused of sending tens of thousands of people to their deaths.
Simon, UK

I take personal objection to the fact that war criminals from the Balkans run around loose, often committing more crimes - and all the while we are busy chasing 85+ year old men.

Tariq, Canada
It certainly is a noble and useful idea to prosecute war criminals no matter when, because as someone said already: 'better late than never'. But a special effort must be made to make sure that it is done impartially. It is 100% that 100 times more of an effort is made to prosecute war criminals from over 50 years ago in Nazi Germany than they are to:
1) stop CURRENT war crimes from occurring (the apathy of the international community and everyday citizens amidst widespread genocide in the Bosnia in the early 90s is just one example) and
2) To capture even more recent war criminals - who just happen to have committed their crimes against groups of people deemed less 'important' or wielding less political power with which to push authorities to act.
I take personal objection to the fact that war criminals from the Balkans run around loose, often committing more crimes - and all the while we are busy chasing 85+ year old men. Perhaps we have not learned the lesson that we should have from the holocaust, and perhaps the 6 million who died did so largely in vain - because we're not concentrating our efforts where we should be: stopping such crimes from ever occurring again. In other words, saving lives.
Tariq, Canada

War criminals should be hunted down, tried and convicted, no matter how long it may take. By doing so, a message will be sent out to any potential war-criminal that the world community will hunt them down and prosecute them and should expect no mercy.
Jeff, USA

Whatever Kalejs may or may not have done 50-odd years ago, he has not been accused of any crime committed on British soil or against British subjects. Thus, Britain's justice system has no right to get involved. Unless Latvia requests his extradition, leave him in peace.
Michael B., Czech Republic

Convict them if you have sufficient evidence. If do not have sufficient prove or evidence, shut up and leave them alone. Stop the morality of self-righteousness. In 100 years time, when all government archives will be open for public scrutiny, we will get another picture of those days anyway.
Wulf-Dieter Krüger, Thailand

Pinochet took out a brutal communist dictator in Chile and allowed a democratic government to eventually take over. He ought to be given a knighthood.

William Cooke, USA
I think we need to ask a more important question. Why does the Government allow Stalinist cold war criminals to escape prosecution while going after Nazi war criminals. It seems to me that Jack Straw has a political agenda. Perhaps he feels a kinship with his fellow left-wingers.
Also, I resent the fact that Gen. Pinochet, who is a real hero, is being treated this way. Pinochet took out a brutal communist dictator in Chile and allowed a democratic government to eventually take over. He ought to be given a knighthood.
William Cooke, USA

All those responsible for crimes against humanity should be made accountable for their actions, whenever they committed their crimes. What I fail to understand, however, is why Israelis and members of the Jewish diaspora are so keen on having Mr. Kalejs tried while they turn a blind eye to the crimes against humanity being committed by Israel's proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army, at the Khiam concentration camp in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon. More than two hundred people are currently held there without due process, a key characteristic of a concentration camp.
Raynald Adams, Canada

Just one more subject would be added - When, where and who will charge Communists who have killed more people than all regimes mentioned above. When Western Democracies will take the really serious steps to stop such crimes in our days.
Janis, Latvia

We have to decide in what kind of world we want to live. It maybe detrimental to the economy, but becoming to moral standards: don't let 'em get away! Don't stop with only one Pinochet!
Christian von Baudissin, Germany

We have a responsibility to pursue war criminals to the full extent of our resources. Age and the passage of time is irrelevant - we owe justice to all.
Bill Keating, Western Australia

It is extremely important that the international community never allows those who have committed crimes against humanity to feel that they are either safe or absolved of guilt by virtue of the passage of time. The Truth Commission in South Africa appears to have worked well but it can only be emulated where there is a profound will within the communities concerned to deal compassionately with the issues and crimes. In the absence of this 'profound will' an alternative strategy is required and, I believe, a cornerstone of this alternative srategy is the principle that the international community should never attempt to evade their moral responsibilities by throwing up the smokescreens of time limitation or the cost of prosecution.
John Lynam, England

War criminals should know that time will not obliterate their crimes.

Charles, Kuwait
Past and present crimes against humanity, especially those committed by criminals disguised as government officials, should not be forgiven. Age or even death should not prevent the prosecution of crimes against humanity. Active war criminals such as those in Indonesia and Russia should know that time will not obliterate the crimes.
Charles, Kuwait

Why is it we never hear of crimes against humanity ordered by: Stalin and those who followed his orders and policies that resulted in the killings of millions of his own people? Or Churchill and the military leaders who obeyed his ordering for the destruction of Dresden when the war was almost over and tens of thousands of non-military refugees were killed? Or Truman for the ordering of the atomic bombs dropped on the two cities in Japan? If we don't try them all, then none should be brought before any court.
Bill Mitchell, USA

War is a crime in itself! How is it possible to prosecute some, yet not prosecute others? The scale of the crime is surely unimportant. However, if we as world police insist on still going after these "criminals", there should be no time limit, just in case it will serve as a deterrent in the future.
Gary Long, UK

They must be brought to the war crime tribunal, the price must be paid whether we are going into the new millennium or not. We are not going to punish for our anger, but for justice. We know the trial is not guaranteed to stop people doing wrong again, but justice is done for history and for all mankind who suffered and we all should remember this.
Frank Warren Ho, Republic of Taiwan

War criminals should be prosecuted regardless of of the amount of time that has elapsed. I feel this is important because among other things, such prosecutions allow society as a whole to re-examine the shared values that gave rise to such crimes. For this reason I also think it is important that all the different legal channels (national and international) should be used, especially where the national level systems are seen to be compromised by being associated with those suspected of involvement in war crimes.
Agnes Makonda Ridley, Switzerland

The trouble with your question is that it assumes that prosecuting somebody (e.g. Pinochet) is tantamount to convicting him/her. That is frequently the case in many countries, but English law doesn't live by such assumptions. Putting Pinochet away does little, admitted, but it might assuage the feelings of victims' relatives. Also, the trial enables one to bring out the truth, which is very important. In Pinochet's case: if Chile wants to have him back, let an independent prosecutor indict him and independent justice ask for his extradition.
Michael S. Cullen, Germany

It's totally naive to believe that any participant in a war will have a Geneva Convention session before going out to kill someone. There is no humane war, regardless of what armchair pacifists believe.
Paul Main, Germany

Your comments during the programme

In a war situation, war crimes are usually committed by both sides. Why is it only the victors who prosecute the vanquished?
Okoiti Omtatah Nairobi, Kenya.

Better late than never.

Gönül Erönen, Cyprus
As a Turkish Cypriot Supreme Court justice in North Cyprus, I think "better late than never". War does not give an excuse to people to commit crimes of any sort and certainly does not justify murder. Time does not change the seriousness of the offences. It should be left to the administration of justice and the legal system of the country involved to deal with it.
Gönül Erönen Cyprus

Crime is crime, criminals are criminals, what's more basic than that? If they committed the crime, they should do the time. The cases of Melita Norwood in Britain to Aleksandras Lileikis in Lithuania, as well as the Kalejs case, should all be dealt with according to the country's judicial system. But excusing any inquiry due to age, time of crime, etc., is not consistent with our concepts of a society based on law and justice for all.
Mel Huang, Estonia

I think that it sends the wrong message to possible war criminals that if they wait long enough after what they have done, they will be home free. All that they have to do is find a place of sanctuary until enough time has gone by, and then they are off of the hook.
Mark Wallace, USA

Survivors deserve justice, as do the dead.

Charlotte Mitchell, Australia
Post traumatic stress disorders do not disappear with the turning of the calendar. Survivors deserve justice, as do the dead.
Charlotte Mitchell, Australia

There have been no US or Western European military people brought up before this tribunal in Yugoslavia in spite of the enormous damage the bombing did to that country and I don't think there ever will be. Also the UN itself is a body that includes the great majority of the world's countries and yet in what it does, it very much reflects the desires of the major Western powers, especially the United States so I don't think it's a question of how many nations are involved in these sorts of things, I think it's a question of where the power lies.
Tony Price, USA

There is a clear difference between the Kalejs case and that of General Pinochet. The authorities in the US have reviewed the Kalejs matter and have held that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with any prosecution, whereas the Spanish authorities feel that Pinochet has a case to answer. If there is not sufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution in the Kalejs case, it is highly unlikely that there is even a small chance of a conviction under the War Crimes Act. If the evidence is not sufficient to ensure a conviction Kalejs MUST be deemed innocent. One of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, which, after all was drawn up in the wake of Nazi atrocities, is that of the presumption of innocence for all until proven guilty by a court of law. No matter what a person's alleged activities, unless they can be proved in a court of law, calling for a trial of an individual without sufficient evidence to warrant such a trial, is, it is suggested, allowing ourselves to descend to the level of totalitarian regimes.
Nula O'Neill, UK

All war criminals should be prosecuted irrespective of their age or when the crimes were comitted. Furthermore, the leaders of all countries that protect war criminals should also be charged for conspiracy in aiding and abetting war criminals.
Paul Michael, Beiruth, Lebanon

Crimes against humanity are largely defined by the victors, by the powerful countries. Surely, dropping the atom bombs on a largely civilian population in Japan must rank as a crime against humanity. What chances are there for bringing an action against the USA? The use of Napalm, agent Orange in Vietnam.
Roger Lees, Hong Kong

One is responsible for one's own actions, regardless of how long ago those actions took place.
Elizabeth, Germany

If there is enough evidence they should be brought to justice.

Sara de Witt, UK
If there is enough evidence they should be brought to justice. I was kidnapped and tortured in Pinochet's Chile and would be more than happy to testify in court. There are still people in Chile who aided Pinochet and through a trial we may find information about the disappeared.
Sara de Witt, UK

I'm fully in favour of war crimes investigations but specifically the political masterminds behinds the incidents. Take the case of the young Boasnian Croat, Drazen Erdemovic, who found himself in the Bosnian Serb army. He is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague accepts that he himself was threatened with death if he did not obey his orders, however international criminal law judges that carrying out a criminal order is a criminal offence and duress is rarely accepted as an excuse. Little purpose is served by punishing men such as Erdemovic, other than the gathering of evidence against their superiors. I would much rather see the pursuit of those who carry the burden of responsibility, and to that extent, the current proceedings against General Pinochet are most welcome.
Barry Hennessy, Ireland

If there is enough evidence for anyone to be brought to a justice it must have been done regardless of person's age, sex, health conditions, nationality or social position.
Gita, Latvia

Your comments before we went ON AIR

All war criminals whatever age, and no matter how long it has taken to find these evil people should be tried and punished if found guilty. I do not believe we should feel sorry for them just because they have now become 'old people'. Maybe the passage of time has diluted the feelings of people who were not directly affected, but I'm sure that families and friends of war crime victims still feel their pain. I would like to ask how people would feel if in five, ten or 15 years time we eventually find Jill Dando's murderer, just because time has elapsed do we forgive and forget? A crime is a crime no matter how old the perpetrator or how long ago the crime was committed.
Yvonne Williams Saudi Arabia

It's time to move on from the terrible acts that were committed and spend the resources making the current world a better place. Evil was allowed to happen, but what good will it do to send an old man to prison? He will soon die, and it will benefit nobody.
Ashley Penney, The Netherlands

Surely the voice of those who have suffered under the rule of all tyrants calls out for action. For their sake we must ensure that these people, whatever their age, are put on trial. Not for the sake of revenge but for the sake of Justice.
Jon P, UK

To say that someone won't be punished for their crimes if they are able to evade the law for a long period of time is irrational and idiotic. Such a person should spend the rest of his life wondering if he'll be caught.
George, USA

What good could come from sending an old frail man to prison?

Menhem, Lebanon
I think the time has passed for prosecuting terror perpetrators from WWII. I think we should instead focus on prosecuting those who participated in more recent crimes. What good could come from sending an old frail man to prison?
Menhem, Lebanon

It is a shame that it takes more than half a century to bring the last war criminals to justice. These people have destroyed lives and they have created immeasurable pain. Do not let them get away! These guys are old and evil; they have enjoyed decades of freedom. Let them know that justice doesn't fade away by over time.
John, Singapore

Rather than imprisoned they should be sent to some social service organization to benefit mankind. Everything has time limits and if no decision has been taken over along period of time, then law does not have any right to deprive a POW of his life but should instead give them a chance to live better.
Subrat Sarangi, India

Governments have a responsibility to ensure, and be seen to ensure, justice and the rights of the individual. Time can never erase the effect of any crime, nor nullify the responsibility of the individual criminal.
Frances Dearson, Paphos, Cyprus

Yes, we should. But deportation seems like a weak response from the UK. If he is a criminal, he should have been tried and imprisoned. If there is no proof, then the authorities had no right to deport him. In any case, there is so much unsolved crime today that I wonder why so much emphasis is given to punishing a "maybe" ex-criminal who he is too old and too tired to be dangerous to anyone anymore.
Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus

A few years ago the US scuppered efforts to establish an independent international judiciary to deal with crimes against humanity because it feared its own citizens would be brought to justice before this proposed court. The perception among most people is that the present system of dealing with people such as Kalejs is nothing but a foreign policy instrument in the hands of the West.
Mohansingh, India

There needs to be a standard of proof, of course, but such serious crimes as the murder of 30,000 Latvians surely can not be forgotten. If the perpetrators are still around, and a case can be brought under the rules of the justice system, then it is right and proper. Simply expelling those accused from our country is not good enough!
Neville Townsend, England

Of course 'crimes of the past' should be prosecuted! By definition, all actionable crimes are 'crimes of the past'. If this were not true, then every person on earth would be prosecuted for harbouring an ill will toward someone at some time, even though they took no action on the feeling.
W Dycus, USA

We either support the open or closed society. The open society better suits most citizens but due process and natural justice within the open society is very slow. Within the open society war crimes and crimes against humanity must also be prosecuted with due process and natural justice applied. But to ensure that our jurisprudence is underwritten by the laws of equity - then the time available to prosecute war crimes must be very long - in my opinion - no less than 100 years.
Howard Scott, New Zealand

If past crimes should not be punished then it must follow that prisoners should not be in jail serving sentences for past crimes.

Ken, Netherlands
If you think that past crimes should not be punished then it must follow that prisoners should not be in jail serving sentences for past crimes. If you feel that certain people should be left alone because they are old then you should release all those aged prisoners who committed despicable crimes. You could start with Myra Hindley. Had Kalejs been convicted of his crimes many years ago he doubtless would be either dead now or still in prison. It is sickening to propose because he has evaded capture for so long he should be "awarded" with immunity from prosecution - the same goes for Pinochet. As for Fusco the murder he committed is justified because he did it for a cause. Good recipe for anarchy that one.
Ken, Netherlands

The holocaust occurred in history, and is still studied in schools today, which means that it is still relevant to today's society. Why not show the children of today that these evil and murderous people will not be tolerated. We must not feel sorry for such people that have caused so much grief to others.
Kristy, Australia

Yes, I think Kalejs and other war criminals should be pursued. A lesson to all that we must pay the price of our wrong actions and receive rewards for our right actions.
Robert Goh, Solomon Islands

The question is who is punishing who? How far back do we have to go for crimes of the past? The heads of Britain should be punished for the crimes that happened in India under British Rule.
Mike Still, UK

A crime remains a crime, whether committed yesterday or a 1000 years ago. Some are so barbarous that they are not easily forgotten by mankind and we need to show that the perpetrators of such evil face justice.
D Davis, Britain

Britain and Australia, in refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of war crimes and bringing to justice this crafty old fugitive are doing an injustice to those brave young men who gave up their lives to stop these atrocities in the 1940's. If it doesn't matter now - are we saying they didn't matter as well?
Audrie, Australia

The only difference between someone being labelled a war criminal or a war hero is which side they were on. The supposed hunters of war criminals are often just as ruthless as their prey. This argument can also be extended to terrorists. If your organisation is violent and destructive to the regime of a 'good' country you are a terrorist. If however you are equally violent and destructive against a 'bad' country and are imprisoned for your crimes you become an international hero and the world campaigns for your release.
Keith Lomax, UK

What interests me is Jack Straw's logic in the Kalejs case. If there's sufficient evidence to have Kalejs deported, then how can there not be sufficient evidence to bring him to trial here? Seems like monstrous buck-passing to me. But then, Pinochet's arrest was only due to a Spanish request that couldn't legally be avoided. Meanwhile, let's hope the Australians have more moral courage than the British: examine the evidence fairly, try him if necessary (innocent until proven guilty), then convict and punish appropriately or release him to live with whatever ghosts and demons he might have to live with.
Jonathan Schütz, UK

Its wrong that there is any consideration of not pursuing the alleged crimes of Konrad Kalejs. True, it is fifty years since the atrocities were committed, but for those fifty years families of the apparent 30,000 Jews to have died at the hands of Kalejs have had to live without their loved and lost. On the news, he looks an old frail man who has maybe not committed a crime since his days as a Nazi. But he was a Nazi, and a member of a death-squad at that. Is the government really suggesting that we forgive and forget? It was a long time ago, but nobody has been called to justice for those supposedly murdered on a colossal scale by Kalejs.
Steffan Rhys, Wales

Kalejs is 86 years old. Let him enjoy the final years of his life in peace

Ghaith, Lebanon
Kalejs is 86 years old. Let him enjoy the final years of his life in peace. I believe that there should be some forgiveness for those involved or forced to commit crimes dating back to WW2.
Ghaith, Lebanon

YES. The truth of those responsible for planning and executing these crimes must come to light for us to be able to move forward. Official recognition must be given that people have been victims of a planned strategy to systematically eliminate them and their dignity, and which cannot simply be called 'military excesses'.
Kate de Rivero, Peru

He has lived with this for so long with the looks and the screams of those victims. Why not let a sad old pathetic man live the rest of his life with those eyes piercing him.
Melissa Polansky, Australia

Surely the pursuit of justice applies to all regardless of age, and especially due to the seriousness of their alleged acts.

Matt Evans, UK living in US
Britain's decision to detain former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet sent a message that all humans, no matter where they come from or how prominent they are will be held responsible for their actions wherever they go. It was therefore a great blow for the rule of law and consequently a great blow for human justice and freedom. On that day, we could all breathe a little easier, whether we be here in Sydney, or in East Timor, or in Beijing. As a way of deterring criminals from their crimes, everyone should know that no matter how long it takes, or how far they go from their original crimes, they will be found and punished.
Stephen Sewell, Australia

Any creature under the Sun that has been suspected of any crime, must be brought to justice, no matter how long ago, how old is she/he. End of story.
Ket Goach, USA

There are two different things that are mixed: the justice and the punishment. Everybody who committed a crime against innocent people no matter how many of them were killed one or 6 millions must be responsible for his/her actions whether these criminals are young or old. The punishment is another thing. Let Kalejs, Pinochet and other be convicted for their crimes, but to execute them or to put them behind the bars is not necessary with respect to their age. Life with a label of a murder and fear of being prosecuted that are real punishments for them
Ilya Girin, USA

The crimes against humanity committed at any time, but particularly by the Nazis (since this is the topic of discussion) were directed at those poor unfortunates, regardless of age. Indeed, the very young and the very old, totally innocent, were usually dispatched immediately and not by gentle means. The world should not confuse one issue with another justice should be served in all cases, whenever possible, even if that means prosecuting an old man for his war crimes. The fact of new atrocities only points out to us that we have not learned our lessons from history. Nations of honour who have the means to stop such slaughter of humanity should intervene, not just if it is an economic advantage to do so, or for international prestige, but on the basis of moral right.
Theresa Mancuso, USA

Until these people are made to publicly face up and accept the evil of what they did then there is nothing they can be forgiven for

James Sinden, New Zealand
These people should be brought to justice and made to acknowledge their crimes publicly. The only question that should be discussed is how hard should these people be punished for those crimes. Until these people are made to publicly face up and accept the evil of what they did then there is nothing they can be forgiven for. We cannot learn from history if the truth is not disclosed. The Peace and Reconciliation tribunals in South Africa show one way in which the crimes can be acknowledged and condemned whilst showing a level of humanity and forgiveness with the perpetrators.
James Sinden, New Zealand

Let's make this more personal... If it were your family who was killed by this alleged criminal, how would you feel? Would time matter? There should be no statute of limitations for crimes like this.
Jonathan, Costa Rica

The fact that neither Pinochet nor Kalejs seem likely to re-offend in the same manner, or that international law has thus far failed to bring all war criminals to justice is simply irrelevant in this, and all similar cases. These people must be tried, and if found guilty, punished, for justice to be served. The only people who seem to disagree, in Britain at least, are those who would rather save money or leave all this unpleasantness to other countries.
S Minaee, UK

I have always taken comfort in the truth of the old proverb, 'if you sit by the river long enough you will see the bodies of your enemies floating by'. Have we become so liberal now that we are willing to-dare I use the word-'forgive' atrocities committed indiscriminately against men women and children just because they were committed 20 years ago? Justice must be served out of respect for the victims and their families, furthermore we need to make examples of these monsters, and let the world know that this kind of despicable behaviour is intolerable.
Leila Brahimi, USA

The UK must be consistent on pursuing suspects from the past. It cannot be right to let self confessed British traitors off and then not do the same for Pinochet. This government's approach is purely a politically biased one. I.e. Lefty traitors and inconvenient ones like Fusco are let off while Pinochet is pursued vigorously.
B Harrison, England

In war, crimes are committed all the time, and I do not think that it is anyone's personal individual choice to be involved in a war in the first place.

Ulysses Christodoulou, USA
War makes people different than they would normally be. In war, crimes are committed all the time, and I do not think that it is anyone's personal individual choice to be involved in a war in the first place. I don't know who is a sadder case: an ex-war criminal, or a still better individual who has the impression he is avenging the war dead by persecuting or prosecuting a war criminal? I am not even sure if the expression war criminal is correct, since in war ordinary people may be forced to do things that would otherwise had not imagined or dared to do. Do you think you can really find an exception in a war?
Ulysses Christodoulou, USA

Each one of us is responsible for our past. This old man should pay the price for all the bad deeds he has done, so that nobody dares to repeat the same crimes again in future. Let's live in harmony with each other forever, instead of hating each other.
S Sen, India

Surely it is time to forget and look to the future.

Bridget Simmonds, England
I think we should leave these old men alone. It is a waste of public money to go through an expensive trial only to find that they either die or are too ill to stand trial and/or go to jail. Surely it is time to forget and look to the future.
Bridget Simmonds, England

Justice must be served. However, if there is not sufficient evidence to convict, is there a chance of getting sufficient evidence after this many years? If not, drop the process. If yes, then he should be punished. War is not an excuse to kill innocent civilians.
Larry Olsen, USA

These people may have committed crimes in the passed, but the blood thirsty zeal with which most of you are screaming for their heads sounds like something a great deal less rational than justice. Those live cannot be replaced no matter how much money changes hands, or how many people are killed or incarcerated in their names. What are war criminals but the losers? If you want some real "war criminals" try indicting the people in charge of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings. How many innocents died there? Oh, but wait, they are "heroes", aren't they? And all of you are just "defenders of justice."
Amanda, USA

If there were any evidence against Konrad Kalejs, I would say prosecute him. But since there is no reason to suspect that he committed war crimes, or was even a member of the Arajs Commando, why can he not be left in peace? Even his chief persecutor, Zelda Chayat, has accused him of nothing more concrete than drinking with members of the Arajs Commando while they boasted about anti-partisan operations. Thank God that the say-so of the Simon Wiesenthal centre is still, in the UK at least, not sufficient grounds for throwing somebody in jail.
Andy Carter, Czech Republic

Each one of us is responsible for our past. This old man should pay the price for all the bad deeds he has done, so that nobody dares to repeat the same crimes again in future. Let's live in Harmony with each other for ever, instead of hating each other.
S Sen, India

Rather than seeking to punish one old man, why were we not devoting our efforts to prevent the massacre in Dili? Or any one of a hundred other places? Why was Kosovo allowed to go on in full international view with no action being taken for so long? What about Chechnya?
Alan Chambers, England

My family lost many of its members in the war. I have learned to let it rest after 50 years and trust the justice system

Jake Megawattie, Australia
This is absolutely crazy. Every night we are confronted by a poor old man who is only a SUSPECTED war criminal. Why do we not make as much fuss over war criminals in Africa or Asia. Countries such as the USA, UK and Russia have harboured such war criminals for years as long as they serve their purpose. To suddenly become so amazingly moralistic is sickening. No government has had the evidence to bring this man to trial. He is 84. By now he would know that meeting his maker is not too far away. Let this continue the way it should do so. Quietly and justly. My family lost many of its members in the war. I have learned to let it rest after 50 years and trust the justice system. Why can't these people ? What do they have to gain ??
Jake Megawattie, Australia

Second World War crimes were all thoroughly documented public knowledge 50 years ago. Why was no effort being made then to bring the perpetrators to justice? Whose agenda is it that is driving the current crop of highly publicised tragi-comedies against the nearly senile remnant?
David Baynes, Canada

Yes, a criminal must always be made to answer for his or her crimes, regardless of how long ago they were committed. However, two things need careful consideration; firstly, is there a reasonable chance of obtaining substantive and reliable evidence after the lapse of several years AND secondly, once a conviction is obtained, the sentence may need to be set bearing in mind the effects of the intervening time lapse. Essentially, however, there are 2 main reasons why I believe prosecution MUST be considered - (a) no person is above the Law, regardless of how long they have been able to get away with or avoid the consequences of their crimes and (b)justice must be done, and be SEEN to be done, for the sakes of the victims and/or their families.
Doug Stephenson, U.K.

Age by itself should be no defence to charges of genocide, but on conviction, it is proper for the courts to act humanely in sentencing.

Alex MacPhee, UK
Frankly, I think the suffering we put old people through when we force them (as we, quite wrongly, seem to be doing here) to prove their innocence makes pursuing them at this juncture inappropriate. Your contributors already sound like packhounds baying for blood -of, as things stand, judicially, innocent men. In the case of WWII crimes, I think turning a new century should be the point where we say, 'Enough!'
Howard Rogers, Australia

So we're supposed to feel guilty about bringing somebody to justice because he's old? How old were the Latvians killed? I'd not be surprised if there were some "senior citizens" amongst them. Also, does evading justice for 50 years somehow pardon the actions?
Brian, United Kingdom

How is it possible to forgive a person responsible for the torture and killing of "not one or two" people, but thousands of young people? Looking at such a person, I see only a monster not a human. Therefore, I say they should be tried.
NG Bisrat, USA

It is not up to us to decide whether anyone is guilty of "crimes against humanity", or to judge the culpability of somebody's actions, if they are foreign and their crimes were committed in their own country. Nobody outside Latvia has the right to judge Konrad Kalejs, in the same way as no one who is not a Bosnian has the right to pass judgement on Ratko Mladic or any other Serb "war criminal". To do so may not be illegal, but it is totally immoral.
Harry Snook, UK

People should know that if they commit these crimes, they will never be safe from punishment. They must never rest easy.
David Minnie, South Africa

Throughout the discussion of this issue, several key words keep re-appearing: 'revenge' and 'forgiveness'. The purpose of the rule of law in a civilised society is to de-coup the concept of revenge from that of justice, and to apply the principles of justice in an impartial and fair way. Forgiveness is a different issue. In particular, forgiveness is not in the gift of those who have not themselves been the victims of those who committed atrocious crimes. It is therefore largely pointless to talk of 'forgiving' war criminals. There is no sentence which can be imposed on an octogenarian sufficient to make him pay for or atone for his alleged crimes, and that is in no small part because we have a judicial system that is intentionally humane. This should not be taken to mean that the perpetrator of an atrocious crime should not be brought to justice. Age by itself should be no defence to charges of genocide, but on conviction, it is proper for the courts to act humanely in sentencing.
Alex MacPhee, UK

In one word, yes. Just because he's 86 doesn't mean he's above the law.
Alex Banks, Wales

Why should Australia prosecute someone for a crime committed against people in another country who weren't Australian citizens? The crimes were terrible, but they should be up to Germany to prosecute. The sooner all the "war criminals" die and the subject goes away the more money can be spent on victims.
Richard Jary, Australia

Crimes of the magnitude we are dealing with here should never be forgotten. I would go further than to argue that age is no barrier. I would urge that even death be no escape. Just as the innocent can be "pardoned" even after execution then the guilty should in principle be able to be condemned even after death. The principle about the accused having a right to speak for themselves in their defence is however so valuable that pursuit of the guilty beyond death unfortunately may be impractical.
John Leeson, UK

I seem to recall that we have released early more than 200 of the most vicious murderers of the last century. Therefore any effort to bring men such as Kalejs and Pinochet to justice, for crimes not even committed here seems to stretch the definition of a fair and just legal system a little too far. Let them go and let us concentrate on bringing to justice those criminals who are a threat to today's society.
James, UK

We punish people by giving them a custodial sentence in order to deter others from committing the same crime, to ensure that society is safe and for 'therapeutic' value to victims. Given the long time that has passed since Kalejs' crime, I don't believe any of these conditions are really satisfied. We should never forget the atrocities committed by this man but we should also not allow the rage to continue burning within ourselves. It's time to forgive.

The message should be crystal clear to all those that would commit the inhuman crimes that these men are accused of - commit the crime and there is nowhere you can hide and no time limit on bringing you to justice.
James Watson, England

Surely now is a time for reflection, not revenge. WWII was a very long time ago and we should be able to learn from its atrocities, which were committed by both sides. We should be concentrating on preventing such horrors from happening again.
Susan, UK

The wheels of Justice grind exceeding slow; Thus Justice can only with time be so. If there is to be forgiveness, it must be after guilt is ascertained by trial and be accompanied by remorse.
Howard Haysom, USA

There is no need to punish anybody as everybody gets what he does which is perfectly in accordance to the Newton's third law i.e. "Every action has got it's equal and opposite reaction" and also for all your actions you will have to pay for it. If your actions were good the result will be good.
Pratul Mahalanabis, India

It is really easy to judge an old and weak man, and if their crimes have been committed long time ago, it is still better. But if these crimes were committed in foreign countries, it is perfect to forget that Suharto is alive, Stroessner is free and rich, South-African executioners are free and young, and that Mobutu and Marcos died in peace! About both the men in the picture, one has lived hidden and apparently correctly for half century and the other was a dictator who left the power after a plebiscite. Something here seems me demagogy.
Rafael Bertoluci, Brazil

The law exists for a reason, foremost of which is to provide a way for society to deal with criminals on a fair and equal basis. The obvious answer to this question is that we are required to follow the law as prescribed. A society cannot function by poll or emotional popular opinion. If the law provides an exemption on the basis of old age, then an elderly suspect should be allowed to evade prosecution, otherwise he should face justice.
Jim Hubbell, USA

Any person who has committed crimes as serious as these, should stand trial. They have managed to live to an old age, their victims never had the same opportunity. Justice should not have a time limit.
Paul, New Zealand

These people are, of course, innocent until proven guilty. If they are tried and found guilty, however, then they should be taken outside and hanged. Putting them in jail, to live the rest of their lives off my taxes, is like rubbing salt in an already sore wound.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Is not it time to look forwards instead of always going back to a fifty years old past and always thinking of punishment and revenge? Let these old people stay with there consciences. We should also stop use a double standard morality... Why forget so easily what happened in the communist countries or in some other countries...? Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.
Pierre C, Belgium

We must be very careful when we talk about forgiveness. The rule of law should be applied evenly and fairly. If there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable likelihood of conviction they must stand before the courts, regardless of their age.
Douglas Shanks, UK

Do we have two standards? Remembering how a clear majority of Talking Point contributors were so adamant that Ian Brady should never be released or even granted his wish to die, being made to suffer to the limit of the law for his crimes. How can we then turn around and effectively say: "But those who mercilessly murdered thousands of Jews can be forgiven after a certain time"?
Simon Cameron, UK

What if they are not guilty and we put them through all the terrible anguish and embarrassment while they try to live the remaining days of their life. Are we then to stand trial for the injustice. No-one can rely on someone's recollection of events 55 years ago. The war is over. Let it be history.
Steve J, Canada

To allow people impunity for their actions merely due to the passage of time is ridiculous.

Mark, UK/Netherlands
To allow people impunity for their actions merely due to the passage of time is ridiculous. Who draws the line? Is somebody guilty until some magic arbitrary day when "it's history" and no longer matters? It will always matter, and to say it doesn't is to let these people win. They will laugh at our weakness.
Mark, UK/Netherlands

If someone has got away with a crime for a large length of time then it is either due to that person's ingenuity or the lack of ingenuity of whatever prosecuting force should be after him. Should we therefore punish this person for being clever or for other people's failings?

The crimes that Pinochet and Kalejs have allegedly committed are crimes against humanity. Society must clearly send out the message that behaviour like this will never be tolerated - so that it cannot happen again.
What would the world's reaction have been if the old man found in a British nursing home had been Hitler?
Dave Armtrong, UK

Forgive and forget, those old war criminals will soon die and face the divine justice.

R. Shehada, Egypt
Forgive and forget, those old war criminals will soon die and face the divine justice. Do you think that any earthly punishment would even compare to what they are going to suffer in hell?
R. Shehada, Egypt

Poor old grandaddy Augusto Pinochet has not passed his life in hiding but in posh places paid by the sons and daughters of those he murdered with no mercy or consideration to old age or fair prosecution.
To punish him is a favour, as was going to Siberia for Raskolnikov. Pray for him and send him to his deserved fair trial.
Federico Rodriguez, Bolivia

What has age got to do with the crime? They can always be pardoned after they have been tried and found guilty. Crime cannot go unpunished.
Charles Dique, USA

I am tired of hearing that 'fragile old men' who are Nazi war criminals should be left to live in peace. What about the thousands of victims who were cruelly exterminated by the Nazis and deprived of the chance to grow old in peace with their families?
These old men, if guilty, have forfeited their right to a peaceful end, irrespective of age, and should be brought to justice. Nazi-hunters, such as Simon Wiesanthal, should be highly commended for their dogged pursuit of the barbarians who committed the most evil and wicked crimes of the twentieth century. Let us never forget - or history may repeat itself.
Jeff Obbard, Singapore

Don't waste your money on a man who is over 80. Spend on the poor.
N.Mano, New Zealand

OK, so we decide to forgive and forget crimes that have been carried out by people who are now considered to be too elderly to prosecute. How old is too old. Is it 70yrs, 75yrs or 80? Lets say that we agree it should be 75yrs and that people who are older than this become exempt from prosecution. Are these people now free to carry out new crimes knowing that they cannot be prosecuted?
Mark , Canada

These persons should be let off the hook and be given some peace. They have already lived their life with nothing left for now. Making serve punishments for what was done a long time ago is torture since they are old and weak. They lived in an age and time that is totally different from ours. They should have served their 'sentences' 20 years ago, but for now it is too late and is the time to forgive and forget.
Sana, Canada

If you commit a crime, there should be no time limit on justice. You should pay for your actions regardless of age, status or race.
John, Canada

These old men never cared about the victims of their crimes, why should we be concerned with their age and comfort. Until their last breath, these old men should be hunted and tried in courts of law. They gave no mercy and should expect none in return.
David Plotkin, United States of America

What's the difference between finding and prosecuting ex-Nazi officials and finding ex-African slave owners, traffickers, etc? Is one cause more noble than the other? Or it is a matter of funding and relevancy?
Dena, USA

A criminal should pay for his/her crimes according to the type of crime committed, irrespective of age and health. In the case of Pinochet, he killed the Chilean ambassador to Washington, Letellier, during the administration of Allende. He should serve as an example to other dictators who went unpunished. Peron in Argentina, Castro in Cuba, Hitler, Stalin¿. were unpunished. Please do not feel pity for him. There are many families who lost their loved ones in Chile and claim he should be brought to justice no matter what.
John Llerena, USA

Why should we let these people live our their lives in peace when the people who they tortured and murdered died without peace.
Graham Clarke , Australia

If you have ever visited the holocaust centre in Jerusalem then you will understand very well the strong feelings the victims families hold for those responsible. This was an atrocity that can never be forgiven, and should never be forgotten.
Alex S, UK

Enough is enough! Half a century later is time to forget and forgive

W Ross, USA

We should learn to forgive once there is no further danger from such people.
S. Caulfield, USA

Crime is crime, just because it takes us a long time to catch some criminals, there should be no exceptions based on age either young or old.
Mr Butler, UK

The word 'crime' does not reflect the true magnitude and horror of the acts that these two men are accused of. Do we deny justice to the thousands upon thousands who died at the hands of these people, simply because they have managed to evade prosecution? We do not have the right to let justice pass these people by because the are old or frail. To do so, would be to deny that there crimes ever took place and to silence the cries of the families, nations and all of us that need to see that such evil is brought to justice, even if it wears an older face.
Daniel Muchow, Australia

Of course crimes should be punished retrospectively. Otherwise murder becomes acceptable provided you have the presence of mind to lay low for long enough. Anything other than prosecution is totally unacceptable.
Ian Hargreaves, UK

Justice must be served, albeit so late. However, let us not deceive ourselves into believing that this is going to deter any future criminals, or the politicians who want to punish the criminals now have any love for justice. It is all a political exercise designed to satisfy some lobby groups and politically influential sections of the society. Likewise, there are so many atrocities of Nazi proportions of present and recent past, as in the Balkans, Sri Lanka etc.
S.Gobinathan, USA

Enough is enough! Half a century later is time to forget and forgive.
W Ross, USA

There should be absolutely no opportunity for criminals of this magnitude to escape prosecution. In the case of Nazi war criminals, have we forgotten that six million innocent people were slaughtered by these monsters? There were no age restrictions in the gas chamber, and there should not be any now.
Anna, Ireland

The question really isn't how old the perpetrator is, but how long ago the crime was committed. The law does set time limits on prosecuting most offences. It is only for murder and other very serious crimes that there is no limit. When it comes to prosecuting people for crimes committed long ago, there is usually a political agenda, and the issue should be seen in those terms. The cases currently in the news would not be happening were it not for pressure from various victims' organisations demanding retribution as a way to ensure that the world does not forget the ancient wrongs suffered by their people.
James Warren, U.S.A.

All your readers hell bent on revenge and blood-letting should be aware that this gentleman is, until proven otherwise innocent. Why should he be sent back anywhere, vilified or subject to this witch-hunt unless he is guilty, and even then I doubt that the pack mentality shown by your 'tabloid readers' would offer him a fair trial. Perhaps of course that would not matter. He's old, cannot fight back, he's on the run, he's got a funny name, let's get him and pat ourselves on the back. How about the modern day despots who are actively killing thousands?
J Evans, UK

Isn't it strange how the only 'war criminals' to be hunted or prosecuted are on the 'losing' side? This would suggest that the Allies were blameless for any atrocities. Who stood trial for the concentration camps during the Boer War? Who answered for the blameless millions who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention Dresden and Nürnberg? And when was the last time they arrested anyone for war crimes committed in the Japanese-occupied Pacific? Who's agenda is being used here? Who's cause is the British taxpayer underwriting?
Mike Fehle, USA

I believe persons committing crimes should receive appropriate punishments, but when a person is at an age where a suitable punishment can not be established, then what other recourse do we have. I suppose he should be jailed for the duration of his life, but to seek some execution would be ridiculous in my opinion.
Amy, US

A crime against humanity has to remain that - a crime against the whole of humanity and therefore we all have to stand up for the names of our murdered brethren "humanity". Maybe this is a time to remind everyone, especially those who want these alleged criminals to go free, that there are numerous suspected criminals living in this country as well as most European countries guilty of involvement in the recent Genocides in Rwanda and Kosovo etc. Let them see we will stand up for humanity even if our parents failed to bring justice promptly which would have been admittedly a better example to all.
Andrew, UK

Crime is crime, criminals are criminals, what's more basic than that? If they committed the crime, they should do the time. The cases of Melita Norwood in Britain to Aleksandras Lileikis in Lithuania, as well as the Kalejs case, should all be dealt with according to the country's judicial system. But excusing any inquiry due to age, time of crime, etc., is not consistent with our concepts of a society based on law and justice for all.
Mel Huang, Estonia

You can not turn back time and prosecute a dead man, just as the dead can not stand in the witness box. The Holocaust was less than 55 years ago. If we start forgetting now, who will remember it in 5er it in 55 years time ?
Ben, London, UK

They tortured and killed and believed they got away with it. If they didn't want their punishment then, then they will have to suffer it now. What about the people they didn't let live to their 80's? How would they feel that they never had a chance for a good life but these twisted fiends have lived a good life and when finally being called to account they were let alone?
Paul Charters, England

If we as a society are prepared to incarcerate without a second thought two children for a murder committed at the age of ten, then I do not see what relevance age has at the opposite end of the spectrum. Particularly when the scale of the wrongdoing which is at the heart of the allegation is so much more heinous and morally abhorrent.
Jonathan Lewis, UK

Age is not a 'get out of jail free card' for crimes committed against the human race.

Ashley, UK
Age is not a 'get out of jail free card' for crimes committed against the human race. Time does not forgive mass murder and genocide.
Ashley, UK

I personally would not punish further a person who has either been fugitive for such a long time or aged otherwise to qualify for old age pension (65). It is sick revengefulness to hunt those persons and never be able to show any sign of human forgiveness. That hunting instinct only contributes to further similar crimes because so many cannot stop the circle.

Mikko Toivonen, Finland

He committed a crime, and no matter his age he deserves the punishment for his actions.
Carlo, Perú

This man is alledged to have commited or ordered acts of sickening barberism and should stand trial for his crimes if there is sufficient evidence. However, the home secretary has access to information regarding this mans crimes and if he feels that there is no hope of a conviction then i think he is doing the right thing by expelling this man from Britain. It would be a waste of tax payers money to pursue a lengthy trial if there's no chance of conviction and as British Law holds that he is innocent until proven otherwise Jack Straw has no choice other than to expel him. If America and Canada couldn't find enough evidence to bring him to trial, why expect Britain to try?
Mike Semus, England

I don't believe locking up an old man like Pinochet will do any good for the victims, but does send a clear signal to those committing similar crimes: You are not above the law and the international community has a long memory This may make all the difference for potential new victims.
Ben, Netherlands

Even though my parents both went through the Holocaust -- or maybe because of it and the values they taught me -- it galls me that while Kalejs might actually rightfully be deported, Pinochet continues to lead quite a comfortable life, with no sign of having to leave the UK. So the General is old and sick? And none of his victims were old and sick? Both men a guilty of crimes against humanity. Their age shouldn't matter, and nor should one be considered more guilty than the other on the basis of the numbers he killed.
Ruth Kaminsky, Israel

If they are guilty of the crimes they are accused of then without doubt they should be punished.
D Butler, England

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

05 Jan 00 | UK Politics
New talks on Kalejs
05 Jan 00 | UK
Health check for Pinochet

Links to other Talking Point stories