Durbin, Leahy, and Feingold Introduce Legislation Making Crimes Against Humanity a Violation of US Law

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Dick Durbin (D-IL), introduced the Crimes Against Humanity Act today - legislation that would make it a violation of U.S. law to commit a crime against humanity. This legislation is needed to ensure that perpetrators of the worst human rights violations do not find safe haven in our country.


“The United States led the first prosecutions for crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trials, following the Second World War,” Durbin said. “These horrible crimes, however, are still taking place. Our promise to hold accountable those who commit the most unspeakable crimes will ring hollow unless we lead the world in punishing those responsible for the gravest human rights violations.”


A crime against humanity is any widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population that involves murder, enslavement, torture, rape, arbitrary detention, extermination, hostage taking or ethnic cleansing.


Despite longstanding U.S. support for the prosecution of crimes against humanity perpetrated in World War II, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, among other places, there is no U.S. law prohibiting crimes against humanity. As a result, the U.S. government is unable to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes found in our country – in contrast to other human rights violations, including genocide and torture. Today’s legislation seeks to close that loophole, allowing the government to prosecute those who have committed these crimes.


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Russ Feingold (D-WI) joined Durbin as original cosponsors of the legislation.


"We must promote accountability for human rights violations committed anywhere in the world, and we must do whatever we can to prevent those who commit such crimes from escaping justice by finding a safe haven in the United States," said Leahy. "I thank Senator Durbin for his leadership on this issue, and I hope all Senators will support this legislation to help this country take another step toward reclaiming our place as a guardian of human rights."


Last year, Durbin held a Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee hearing entitled “From Nuremberg to Darfur: Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity,” which first identified the loophole in U.S. law which today’s legislation seeks to fix. According to the Department of Homeland Security, over 1000 war criminals have found safe haven in the United States, including perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Under current law, these perpetrators cannot be prosecuted for the grave human rights violations they have committed.


The Crimes Against Humanity Act is supported by a broad coalition of human rights and religious groups, including Armenian Assembly of America, Center for Justice and Accountability, Center for Victims of Torture, Enough Project, the Episcopal Church, Genocide Intervention Network, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, International Justice Mission, Jubilee Campaign USA, Inc., Physicians for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, Save Darfur Coalition, the United Methodist Church, and U.S. Campaign for Burma.


Durbin is the author of the Genocide Accountability Act, the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, and the Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act, legislation passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush that deny safe haven in the United States to the perpetrators of genocide, child soldier recruitment and use, and human trafficking.