Since the end of World War II, the United States Department of Justice has actively pursued the prosecution of Nazi war criminals living within our borders through the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Because of existing laws, the Justice Department doesn’t have the authority to try fugitives for genocide crimes, and instead deports them to their home country for prosecution.
However, a new bill that’s about to move before the full Senate would undo the precedent that keeps non-citizens from being charged with genocide in the United States.
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 United States.
The Justice Department has identified individuals who participated in the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides and who are living in the United States under false pretenses. Under current law, these individuals cannot be arrested or prosecuted for genocide, because they are not U.S. nationals and the acts in which they were involved did not take place in the United States. In contrast, the laws on torture, material support for terrorism, terrorism financing, hostage taking, and many other federal crimes are still considered crimes when committed outside the United States by non-U.S. nationals.
Salah Abdallah Gosh, the head of security in the Sudanese government, has reportedly played a key role in the government’s genocidal campaign in Darfur. In 2005, Gosh came to Washington to meet with senior Administration officials. Under current law, the FBI could not even interview Gosh about his involvement in the Darfur genocide, much less charge him with a crime.
This is the first bill to be introduced 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 Human Rights subcommittee’s first hearing was held in February and focused on the genocide in Darfur and other parts of the world.
Even though the bill will likely aid in the prosecution of Sudanese and Rwandan ex-pats, there’s little doubt that cases like John Demjanjuk’s would have been better served if this loophole had been closed earlier. In fact, this will hopefully give the OSI the teeth it needs to pursue fugitive war criminals with greater effectiveness.