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Crimes Against Humanity Bill Would Close Loophole in U.S. Law
Human Rights First Urges Passage of Legislation Criminalizing These Heinous Acts, Granting Prosecutors Expanded Powers to Prosecute
Human Rights First is urging Congress to swiftly pass the Crimes Against Humanity Act of 2009, legislation that would close a loophole in U.S. law that currently allows perpetrators of some heinous international crimes to avoid accountability in U.S. courts. The organization welcomed the bill, introduced today by Senator Richard Durbin, noting that it would expand existing prosecutorial powers beyond genocide, strengthening America’s ability to bring to justice those who commit horrific and pervasive crimes against humanity.
“While often less publicized than genocides, crimes against humanity are as devastating to their victims and as worthy of vigorous and unbending attention from the United States government,” wrote Human Rights First and more than 25 other leading human rights organizations, faith-based groups, refugee assistance organizations, and women’s rights groups in a letter sent today to Senator Durbin. “We must ensure that perpetrators of mass atrocities cannot evade justice by coming to the United States.”
The Crimes Against Humanity Act of 2009 covers some of the most atrocious crimes committed in recent history, such as the campaigns of mutilations and murders of civilians in Sierra Leone and Uganda, the systematic rape of women in Burma and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. Because these crimes are not considered to be genocide, under existing U.S. law prosecutors do not have the ability to hold the perpetrators accountable. Crimes against humanity is a distinct category of crime and a separate statute is needed to provide United States courts with jurisdiction to indict those who commit these acts if they are ever present in the United States.
In today’s letter, Human Rights First and its fellow signatories criticized this systemic flaw, writing, “Alleged perpetrators of those crimes have therefore been able to escape prosecution in the United States. Though U.S. law prohibits grave human rights violations such as genocide and torture, alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity may escape accountability due not to their innocence of unforgivable acts but to loopholes in the U.S. criminal code. The Crimes Against Humanity Act of 2009 would close this illogical gap in U.S. law. Just as they may pursue those who have committed related and similarly horrific crimes, U.S. prosecutors would have the authority to ensure that those in the United States who have committed crimes against humanity may not evade accountability merely by fleeing to our country.”
Human Rights First notes that today crimes against humanity are being committed in Darfur, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places. Innocent men, women and children are murdered, raped, and enslaved by criminals who, under existing U.S. law, would face no penalty in the United States. This legislation seeks to right that wrong and would be an important step for the United States towards bringing its criminal legislation into line with international norms as well as towards leading international efforts to end the worst crimes known to humankind.