Durbin, Grassley Applaud Senate Passage Of Bipartisan Bill To Broaden War Crimes Jurisdiction

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applaud the Senate passage of their Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, legislation that updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals in the United States regardless of the location or targets of their atrocities. The bill also extends the statute of limitations for war crimes discovered years after they occur. Passage of the bill comes right before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to a joint session of Congress this evening. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives.

The legislation was also introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Victoria Spartz (R-IN). Co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

“Perpetrators committing unspeakable war crimes, such as those unfolding before our very eyes in Ukraine, must be held to account. We have the power and responsibility to ensure that the United States will not be used as a safe haven by the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Our bill will address an egregious gap in our laws to ensure that war criminals who come to the United States can be prosecuted for their crimes,” said Durbin. “I’m thrilled our bill passed the Senate unanimously and am hopeful it will be signed into law as soon as possible to send a clear message to Vladimir Putin that Congress stands with the Ukrainian people.” 

“Today the Senate passed a bill which makes good on the commitments the United States made when we signed the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The U.S. is not, and will never be, a safe haven for war criminals. Russia’s unprovoked and immoral invasion on Ukraine shines a light on the need for this legislation. I want to thank my partner and friend, Senator Durbin, for working with me to see it through the Senate,” Grassley said. 

Current law allows for the prosecution of people who commit war crimes in the United States or abroad but only if the victim or perpetrator is a U.S. national or servicemember. Violators who target non-Americans are not subject to the law even after they enter the United States. The Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act expands the original war crimes jurisdiction to include war criminals found in the United States.

Bill text for the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act is available here. This legislation comes in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to send a clear message that war criminals from any country are not welcome in the United States.

In September, Durbin, Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, hosted Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin to receive an update on Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, and specifically on reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Russians. Earlier this month, Durbin hosted members of the Ukrainian Parliament to discuss calls for a special tribunal to hold Russian leaders accountable for the crime of aggression.