Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Passage Of S.1472, The Human Rights Enforcement Act
I am always looking for ways in which we can improve the investigation and prosecution of international human rights abusers, including those who seek safe haven in the United States. That is what led me to develop and fight for several years to enact the Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act, which became law in 2004. That is what I did in supporting and implementing legislation for the Convention Against Torture. That is what I have done in my work on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.
It is vital that the United States reclaim its historic role as a world leader on issues of human rights. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are working hard to make that a reality. I worked in the last Congress to create the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, and to reconstitute it again this Congress. I have worked closely with Senator Durbin as he has ably chaired it.
This country should not provide a refuge for those who commit human rights violations. Congress took an important step when we passed the Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act. That statute closed loopholes in our immigration law, making it easier to keep out perpetrators of human rights abuses, and to deport those who are already here. It established by statute the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) within the Department of Justice, an office that previously existed only under the discretionary authority of the Attorney General. The Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act expanded OSI’s mission from denaturalizing Nazi war criminals, to investigating, extraditing, or denaturalizing any alien who participated in genocide, torture, or extrajudicial killing abroad. This law has prompted, among other accomplishments, the deportation of Kelbessa Negewo to Ethiopia, where he is now serving a life sentence for torture and multiple killings.
Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009, a bill which I was pleased to cosponsor, builds on the foundation created by the Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act. It seeks to improve our ability to identify and prosecute human rights abusers. It proposes consolidating two sections within the Department of Justice: the Office of Special Investigations, and the Domestic Security Section, which is charged with criminally prosecuting human rights abusers.
This bill also amends a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes those who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide, as defined in Section 1091(a) of title 18, United States Code, inadmissible, and therefore ineligible for the protection of our asylum laws. This bill does not alter our intent, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, that asylum laws are meant to implement our obligations under the 1967 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Like our asylum laws, that international treaty bars those who have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity from qualifying as a refugee.
During its last term, in Negusie v. Holder, the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, held that nearly identical language barring those who “ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution” of others from the benefits of our asylum laws did not automatically disqualify those whose conduct was coerced or otherwise the product of duress. Individuals who have been forced to commit such crimes under duress have been determined to be exempt from that bar by both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Handbook and by nations that have interpreted the Refugee Convention and Protocol. This bill is consistent with that interpretation.
It is vital that the United States reclaim its historic role as a world leader on issues of human rights. We can support the work of President Obama and members of his cabinet, who are working hard to make that a reality. I am pleased that the Senate has passed the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009.
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