A member of Congress says there is no U.S. law that allows for the prosecution of people living in the United States who have committed crimes against humanity in other countries.  Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, wants to change that, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senator Durbin wants to prevent the United States from becoming a safe-haven for war criminals.

At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Durbin said there is a loophole in U.S. law that prevents the Justice Department from taking action against those living in the United States who have committed crimes against humanity.  He said if a foreign warlord who had engaged in mass rape came to the United States, he would be beyond the reach of U.S. law.

"Despite long-standing U.S. support for prosecution of crimes against humanity perpetrated in World War II, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, among other places, there is no U.S. law prohibiting crimes against humanity," he noted.  "As a result, the U.S. government is unable to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity found in our own country."

Durbin is seeking legislation to close that loophole and he has bipartisan support.

"This issue is one of enormous importance," said Senator Arlen, a Pennsylvania Republican.

It is not clear when such legislation would be introduced.  Both the Senate and House of the Representative would have to act on the measure before it could be sent to the president for his signature.

Senator Durbin noted that other grave human rights violations, including genocide and torture, are crimes under U.S. laws.  In fact, he was chief sponsor of a law signed by President Bush last December that closed a loophole that had prevented U.S. authorities from prosecuting individuals in the United States who took part in genocide in other countries.