06.24.09

Durbin, Leahy, Feingold Introduce Legislation Making Crimes Against Humanity A Violation Of U.S. Law

Assistant Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), introduced the Crimes Against Humanity Act today - legislation that would make it a violation of U.S. law to commit a crime against humanity.  This legislation is needed to ensure that perpetrators of the worst human rights violations do not find safe haven in our country.

“The United States led the first prosecutions for crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trials, following the Second World War,” Durbin said. “These horrible crimes, however, are still taking place. Our promise to hold accountable those who commit the most unspeakable crimes will ring hollow unless we lead the world in punishing those responsible for the gravest human rights violations.”

A crime against humanity is any widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population that involves murder, enslavement, torture, rape, arbitrary detention, extermination, hostage taking or ethnic cleansing.

Despite longstanding U.S. support for the prosecution of crimes against humanity perpetrated in World War II, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, among other places, there is no U.S. law prohibiting crimes against humanity. As a result, the U.S. government is unable to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes found in our country – in contrast to other human rights violations, including genocide and torture. Today’s legislation seeks to close that loophole, allowing the government to prosecute those who have committed these crimes.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) joined Durbin as original cosponsors of the legislation.

“We must promote accountability for human rights violations committed anywhere in the world, and we must do whatever we can to prevent those who commit such crimes from escaping justice by finding a safe haven in the United States,” said Leahy.  “I thank Senator Durbin for his leadership on this issue, and I hope all Senators will support this legislation to help this country take another step toward reclaiming our place as a guardian of human rights.”

Last year, Durbin held a Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee hearing entitled “From Nuremberg to Darfur: Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity,” which first identified the loophole in U.S. law which today’s legislation seeks to fix.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, over 1000 war criminals have found safe haven in the United States, including perpetrators of crimes against humanity.  Under current law, these perpetrators cannot be prosecuted for the grave human rights violations they have committed.

The Crimes Against Humanity Act is supported by a broad coalition of human rights and religious groups, including Armenian Assembly of America, Center for Justice and Accountability, Center for Victims of Torture, Enough Project, the Episcopal Church, Genocide Intervention Network, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, International Justice Mission, Jubilee Campaign USA, Inc., Physicians for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, Save Darfur Coalition, the United Methodist Church, and U.S. Campaign for Burma.

Durbin is the author of the Genocide Accountability Act, the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, and the Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act, legislation passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush that deny safe haven in the United States to the perpetrators of genocide, child soldier recruitment and use, and human trafficking. 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Introduction Of The Crimes Against Humanity Act Of 2009
June 24, 2009

 

Today, I am pleased to join Senator Durbin and Senator Feingold in introducing the Crimes Against Humanity Act of 2009.  This legislation will make it a violation of United States law to commit a crime against humanity, and will help ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity do not find safe haven in the United States.  I commend Senator Durbin for his work on this legislation and for his leadership as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. 

Last Congress, I was pleased to work with Senator Durbin to create the Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee, the first-ever congressional committee established to address human rights issues.  The work that we have done through this Subcommittee has helped the Senate focus on important and difficult legal human rights issues, including genocide, human trafficking, child soldiers, war crimes, corporate accountability overseas, systematic rape, and torture. 

The work of the Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee has already achieved important results.  Last Congress, the President signed into law the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, which outlawed the abhorrent practice of recruiting and using child soldiers, and the Genocide Accountability Act, which closed a loophole that had allowed those who commit or incite genocide to seek refuge in our country without fear of prosecution for their actions.  These legislative initiatives were a critical step toward showing the international community that the United States will not tolerate human rights abuses at home or abroad, and that those who commit these atrocities must be held accountable for their actions.  I am pleased to join Senator Durbin to take the next step to protect victims of crimes against humanity in the United States, and to hold those responsible for these terrible crimes to account. 

Along with genocide and war crimes, crimes against humanity are among the most serious crimes under international law.  We see such crimes against humanity by groups or governments as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.  These deplorable crimes include murder, enslavement, torture, rape, arbitrary detention, extermination, hostage taking, and ethnic cleansing, and they continue to take place around the world in places like Uganda, Burma, and Sudan.  

Although the United States has strongly and consistently for more than 60 years supported the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against humanity, there is currently no United States law prohibiting crimes against humanity.  As a result, the government is unable to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity found in our country.  This legislation will fix this loophole by enabling the Attorney General to prosecute crimes against humanity committed by a U.S. national, legal alien or habitual resident in the United States.  The law will also enable the prosecution of any crimes against humanity committed in whole or in part within the United States, as well as offenses that occur outside the United States, if the offender is currently located in the United States.

The actions prohibited by the Crimes Against Humanity Act of 2009 are appalling.  They happen too often throughout the world.  We must promote accountability for human rights violations committed anywhere in the world, and we must do whatever we can to prevent those who commit such crimes from escaping justice by finding a safe haven in the United States.  A foreign policy that seeks to defend human rights will never fully achieve its goals if we undermine our own credibility by failing in our commitment to uphold the highest standards of human rights here at home.  I urge Senators on both sides of the aisle to support this important legislation to help this country take another step toward reclaiming our place as a guardian of human rights.

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