The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder

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


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.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.