With no laws to prosecute war criminals who live in the United
States seeking safe haven after committing crimes against humanity abroad,
Washington has begun to take action against criticism of its objections to the
International Criminal Court (ICC). A
Senate Judiciary subcommittee heard testimony this week to plug that loophole
from a panel ranging from international lawyers to high-profile Darfur
activists like American Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek and actress Mia
Farrow. They are seeking stronger
solutions for pursuing perpetrators still at large and speaking out against the
Khartoum government’s efforts to shield government officials accused of
perpetrating mass crimes of rape and murder in western Sudan. One of those testifying, American University
law professor Diane Orentlicher, says that the atrocities being committed in Darfur illustrate that the time
has come for the United States to take a more serious look at efforts to
apprehend war criminals.
is significant about crimes against humanity is that they’re atrocities that
are targeted against civilians. They’re
not simply acts of war, but the target is civilians themselves,” she points
US support for prosecution of crimes against humanity dates back to World War
Two and extends to curbing more recent upheavals in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and
Sierra Leone, there is no law on the books to prosecute persons responsible for
mass atrocities that do not fall under the definition of genocide, torture or
other select human rights violations.
Professor Orentlicher says that the Bush administration made great
strides to bridge this ambiguity with last year’s passage of the Genocide
Accountability Act to steer American citizens, companies and government
agencies away from conducting business with foreign regimes like Sudan that
promote attacks against their own population.
Beyond this, she says, it discourages war criminals from going on the
means from now on, if someone commits genocide and comes to the United States,
we can prosecute them for genocide if we cannot send them to another place
where they will be prosecuted. It is,
of course, part of the mandate of the International Criminal Court itself to
prosecute cases of genocide under cases that fall within the jurisdiction of
the International Criminal Court, but that court did not create the crime of
genocide. The crime of genocide emerged
out of World War Two, and the United States has been a party to the genocide
convention for 20 years. So our
commitment to punishing genocide predates the commitment of the International
Criminal Court’s to do the same thing.
But the goals are quite similar and compatible,” she notes.
the question of two Sudanese government officials who have been indicted by the
ICC for perpetrating crimes in Darfur, Orentlicher cautions that the
international community needs to act more forcefully to support those prosecutions.
two men enjoy just an astonishing freedom of movement, and the international
community created a mandate for the International Criminal Court to prosecute
these atrocities and then has for the most part left the court without any kind
of serious support to carry out its mandate, and we need to change that. There needs to be serious pressure on the
government of Sudan to surrender the two people who have been indicted,” she
creation of a Senate subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law in January of
last year has resulted in efforts by its chairman, Illinois Senator Dick
Durbin, to hold hearings on crimes against humanity in an effort to focus
American concerns around holding perpetrators accountable under US law. Such crimes include murder, rape,
enslavement, extermination, ethnic cleansing, and arbitrary detention. A substantial portion of this week’s hearing
focused on the crisis in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have
been murdered and several million have lost their homes and local
communities. Professor Orentlicher says
that a historical reluctance to prosecute these offenses on American shores
stems from a mistrust of international political motives for going after
accused war criminals, but that that attitude is starting to change.
the time the United States entered its strongest objections to the work of the
International Criminal Court, it was a brand new institution, and there were a
lot of concerns within the US government about how it would operate. There were concerns in particular that the
institution would operate as an anti-American body and that it wouldn’t operate
in accordance with appropriate principles of independence and would act instead
in a politically motivated way. We now
know that that’s not how it has operated.
The United States has had absolutely no grounds in practice to be
concerned with the way the court has operated, and in fact, I think its
practice over the last few years has gone a long way toward alleviating
American anxieties about the court,” she reasons.
The ICC track record in prosecuting
cases against offenders from Serbia to Rwanda to Sierra Leone has prompted
Washington not to oppose and block the referral of the Darfur situation to
court headquarters at the Hague and has encouraged testimony that could lead to
what Senator Durbin and others hope will result in new legislation to address
crimes against humanity.