Durbin, Grassley Bipartisan Bill To Broaden War Crimes Jurisdiction To Become Law

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 House 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 certain war crimes. Passage of the bill comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to a joint session of Congress last night. The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.  

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). 

“By passing this vital legislation, we are sending a clear message to Vladimir Putin: 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 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 is heading to President Biden’s desk for signature following President Zelensky’s moving address to Congress last night. He is a tireless leader for the Ukrainian people.”

“I’m glad Congress has passed our bill that 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 of Ukraine shines a light on the need for this legislation,” 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. Non-American 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 jurisdiction under the War Crimes Act to include all 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 will not find safe haven 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.