Durbin's Human Rights Enforcement Act Passes House, Sent to President for Signature

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – A bill that would create a new human rights section at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was passed by the House of Representatives late yesterday and has been sent to the President for his signature. The bill, the Human Rights Enforcement Act, introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was unanimously approved by the Senate last month. The legislation would combine the two offices in the Justice Department with jurisdiction over human rights violations to create a new consolidated and streamlined human rights section. The new section would enhance the Justice Department’s efforts to hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations and help ensure that war criminals do not find safe haven in our country.


"The United States has been a leader in holding the perpetrators of serious human rights violations accountable for their crimes. But we must do more to track down perpetrators of some of the most horrific human rights violations in the world who have found safe haven in our country," Durbin said. "The new human rights section at the Department of Justice will focus on bringing these people to justice and, as they do, America’s standing as a world leader in the protection and promotion of human rights will be enhanced."


The federal government has over 1,000 open cases involving suspected perpetrators of serious human rights abuses from approximately 95 countries who are now in the United States. While no one knows the total number of human rights abusers living in the United States, the number of open cases likely represents only a small portion of the total number of such perpetrators.


Once signed into law, Durbin and Coburn’s Human Rights Enforcement Act will merge the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) - which has experience in investigating and denaturalizing human rights abusers – with the Domestic Security Section (DSS) – which has jurisdiction over human rights crimes.


This consolidated human rights section will allow limited law enforcement resources to be used more effectively and ensure that one section in the Justice Department has all the necessary expertise and jurisdiction to prosecute or denaturalize perpetrators of serious human rights crimes.


At Durbin’s request, the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act included $3.3 million to enhance DOJ’s human rights enforcement. Those funds would allow the new human rights section to hire ten attorneys and support personnel. In addition, the bill requires the FBI to establish a human rights unit of its own and funds ten FBI agents and support personnel.


Durbin has held two hearings on the issue of human rights violators finding safe haven in the United States. The first was held in the fall of 2007 and the second was held on October 6th of this year. At this year’s hearing, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Assistant Homeland Security Secretary John Morton expressed strong support for merging OSI and DSS into a new human rights section.


When signed, this will be the third bill from Durbin’s Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee to become law. The first was the Genocide Accountability Act, which closed the legal loophole that prevented the U.S. Justice Department from prosecuting individuals in the United States who have participated in genocide in other countries; and the second was the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, which made it a crime and immigration violation to recruit or use child soldiers.


The Human Rights Enforcement Act is cosponsored by Sen. Coburn, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law; Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD).