Congress votes to expand US power to prosecute international war crimes

WASHINGTON – Congress on Thursday gave final approval to a bill to expand the US government’s power to prosecute international war crimes suspects found in the United States, allowing them to be tried in federal court independently of the nationality of the victim or the perpetrator. or where the crime was committed.

Experts say the legislation, pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers amid reports of Russian forces committing war crimes in Ukraine’s brutal conflict, aligns the US legal code with international law and prevents states from United States are considered a potential haven for war criminals.

The bill, called the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, now goes to President Biden. It passed through the Senate and then the House in the hours surrounding a speech to Congress Wednesday night by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who condemned President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia for targeting civilians and urged U.S. United to continue sending financial and military aid in between. A winter assault.

“By passing this vital legislation, we are sending a clear message to Vladimir Putin: The perpetrators of unspeakable war crimes, such as those taking place before our eyes in Ukraine, must be held accountable,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, D-Illinois, said in a statement Thursday. Mr. Durbin, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, helped lead the legislation along with Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s top Republican.

Currently, federal law allows war crimes prosecutions only if the crime was committed in the United States, or if the victim or perpetrator is a US national or service member. Non-Americans who commit war crimes against other non-Americans abroad but then enter the United States have generally been outside the reach of the law.

David J. Scheffer, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Justice Department has faced limited options in finding a foreign war crime suspect living in the United States. In one case, a Bosnian man accused of killing Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 was only charged with visa fraud when US officials learned he was living in Massachusetts in 2004 and had to be extradited to face more charges.

Similarly, the United States was only able to bring naturalization fraud charges against two former Guatemalan soldiers suspected of massacring villagers in Dos Erres in 1982, during the country’s civil war, after it was discovered that they were living in the U.S. united

The new legislation means America will no longer be a sanctuary for war criminals, Mr. Scheffer said, adding that it’s also a timely deterrent for Russians, from top generals to foot soldiers, to commit war crimes in Ukraine and then try to enter the United States, even years into the future

“A lot of countries look to the United States to see if we’re keeping our house in order or not,” he said. “Are we enacting national criminal laws that empower us to prosecute genocide, to prosecute crimes against humanity, to prosecute war crimes?”

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