WASHINGTON, DC – The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed the passage today by the U.S. Senate of legislation, S.888, closing a legal loophole that prevents the U.S. Justice Department from prosecuting people in the United States who have committed genocide in other countries.
The measure, known as the Genocide Accountability Act, was approved only two weeks after its introduction on March 15th by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), the lead author of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, along with Tom Coburn (R-OK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and John Cornyn (R-TX).
The ANCA supported the adoption of this legislation, and is working toward its passage by the House, as part of a coalition that includes the Save Darfur Coalition, Genocide Intervention Network, American Jewish World Service, Armenian Assembly of America, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Alliance for Justice, and Refugees International. Earlier this month, the coalition, in a letter addressed to members of the Senate, stressed that, “The United States must not remain passive when those suspected of genocide enter or are found in its territory. By eliminating barriers to prosecution, the Genocide Accountability Act will ensure that perpetrators of genocide do not evade accountability when they are found in the United States. We welcome its introduction and strongly urge its enactment into law.”
Commenting on the measure’s adoption, Senator Durbin stressed that, “There is no safe haven for the hundreds of thousands of Sudanese facing genocide in Darfur and yet our country is providing a safe haven for their killers. The current loophole in our genocide laws has real-life consequences. While genocide rages in Darfur, the United States must commit to holding those guilty of genocide accountable.”
A press release from Senator Durbin’s office announcing the measure’s adoption explained that, “under current law, genocide is only considered a crime if it is committed within the United States or by a U.S. national outside the United States. The Genocide Accountability Act would close the current loophole by amending the Genocide Convention Implementation Act to allow prosecution of non-U.S. citizens for genocide committed outside the U.S.”
“In America we are blessed with the most effective and just legal system in the world. It is contrary to our system of justice to allow perpetrators of genocide to go free without fear of prosecution. Fundamentally, we must decide if genocide is a bad enough crime, no matter where it happens, that it warrants the same treatment as terrorism-related crimes,” said Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.
“This bill allows for prosecution of those found in the United States who have participated in horrific acts against humanity in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, and it gives federal prosecutors the tools they need to bring these people to justice,” said Senator Leahy. “I have long called for greater U.S. involvement in resolving the crisis in Darfur and worked for greater accountability for those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, and it was a pleasure to work with Senator Durbin to set up a Human Rights Subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time. This bill is an indication of the important scope and work of the new subcommittee.”
“The genocide in Darfur has become the world’s most dire human rights and humanitarian crisis,” Sen. Cornyn said. “We must hold those guilty of atrocities responsible and ensure they are brought to justice. By closing the current loophole in federal law, this bill takes important steps to rid the world of genocide.”
This bill is the first to be produced by the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, which was officially established at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first business meeting of the 110th Congress. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over all human rights laws and policies and will focus on issues such as genocide, human trafficking, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and arbitrary detention.
The Human Rights Subcommittee’s first hearing was held in February and focused on the genocide in Darfur and other parts of the world. To read the ANCA testimony submitted to this hearing, visit: