Durbin: Human Rights Violators Still Finding Safe Haven in America

Chairs Second Hearing on Enforcement of Human Rights Law

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a second hearing today on the U.S. government’s efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute suspected human rights abusers found to be living in America. Durbin’s first hearing on the subject was in late 2007.


“Two years ago, this Subcommittee held the first-ever Congressional hearing on the enforcement of human rights laws in the United States. While progress has been made, there is still much more to be done,” Durbin said. “The world is watching us closely. When we bring human rights violators to justice, foreign governments are spurred into action, victims take heart, and future perpetrators think twice.”


There are currently over 1,000 cases of suspected human rights abusers living in the United States. The perpetrators in question come from approximately 95 countries and are suspected of crimes including rape, extrajudicial killings, torture and genocide. It is thought that those under investigation are only a small percentage of the actual number of human rights abusers currently in our country, but two announcements at today’s hearing may begin to change the status quo.


New Human Rights Section at DOJ


Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer announced today that the Department of Justice plans to consolidate the two offices within the Criminal Division which have jurisdiction over human rights violations to create a new, consolidated and streamlined human rights section.


Durbin and Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-OK) called for such a move in the Human Rights Enforcement Act – a bill they introduced earlier this year. Durbin also appropriated more than $3 million for the hiring of FBI agents and DOJ attorneys dedicated to human rights investigations and prosecutions.


“Our plan is to combine the resources, skills and expertise of all of our attorneys working on human rights cases to make us even more effective in pursuing violators and denying them safe haven in the United States,” Assistant Attorney General Breuer said in his testimony today.


Increased Human Rights Prosecutions


John Morton, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), testified today about the government’s recent success in prosecuting and removing suspected human rights violators from the United States.


ICE currently has more than 180 active human rights investigations underway which could ultimately support criminal charges or removal proceedings. Since 2005, ICE has removed more than 300 suspected or known human rights violators from the United States.


In Durbin’s first hearing on this issue, Dr. Juan Romagoza Arce, a Salvadoran doctor who was detained and tortured during El Salvador’s civil war, testified about his experience and learning that the two generals responsible for his torture were living freely in Florida. In 2002, Dr. Romagoza won a lawsuit against the two generals responsible for his treatment, yet the generals were allowed to remain in the United States.


Assistant Secretary Morton announced today that the two generals, Carlos Eugenio Vides-Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia have been charged with torture and are currently facing removal by ICE officials.


Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Assistant Secretary Morton also highlighted the case of Chuckie Taylor, son of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. In January, the Justice Department, ICE, and the FBI Taylor successfully prosecuted for torture and sentenced to 97 years in federal prison. This was the first ever federal conviction for a human rights violation.


“While these are all dramatic improvements from our past policy of inaction, far more needs to be done,” Durbin said. “In a country with our dedication to human rights, we must do all we can to hold human rights abusers accountable.”


The hearing, “No Safe Haven: Accountability for Human Rights Violators II,” is the second hearing Durbin has held on the topic since becoming chairman of the Human Rights and the Law Judiciary Subcommittee in 2007. Witnesses at today’s hearing also included David Donahue, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State; and Arthur Cummings II, Executive Assistant Director, National Security Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation.