Senator: US provides haven to war criminals from abroad
"More than 1,000 people from 85 countries who are accused of such crimes as rape, killings, torture and genocide are living in the United States, according to Department of Homeland Security figures," McClatchy's Renee Schoof begins in an article today.
"America has become a haven for the world's war criminals because it lacks the laws needed to prosecute them, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday. There's been only one U.S. indictment of someone suspected of a serious human-rights abuse. Durbin said torture was the only serious human-rights violation that was a crime under American law when committed outside the United States by a non-American national."
"Romagoza told Durbin that he was given electric shocks until he lost consciousness, then kicked and burned with cigarettes until he came to. He also told of being sodomized, nearly asphyxiated in a hood containing calcium oxide — which can cause severe shortness of breath when inhaled — and subjected to waterboarding, including being hung by his feet with his head immersed in water until he nearly drowned.
"Romagoza and two other torture victims brought a civil suit in U.S. federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., against two Salvadoran generals who moved to Florida in 1989: Jose Guillermo Garcia, who was the minister of defense, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, who was the director general of the Salvadoran National Guard."
Durbin's full speech follows. The full McClatchy story is here.
Opening Statement of Senator Dick Durbin
Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law
Hearing on “No Safe Haven: Accountability for Human Rights Violators in the United States”
November 14, 2007
Welcome to “No Safe Haven: Accountability for Human Rights Violators in the United States,” the fifth hearing of the Judiciary Committee’s recently-created Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law.
Unfortunately, our ranking member, Senator Coburn, is not able to be here today. But I know he feels as strongly as I do about the issue we will discuss today, and about the mission of this subcommittee. After a few opening remarks, we will turn to our witnesses.
First, an update on the activities of this subcommittee. This is the first time in Senate history that there has been a subcommittee focused on human rights. This year, we held the first Congressional hearings on the law of genocide and child soldiers. We also have held hearings on human trafficking and the impact of the so-called “material support” bar on the victims of serious human rights abuses.
I have been joined by Senator Coburn in proposing legislation to hold accountable perpetrators who have committed genocide, human trafficking and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. The Genocide Accountability Act passed the Senate unanimously and, after being reported last week by the House Judiciary Committee, is awaiting action on the House floor. The Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act and the Child Soldiers Accountability Act have both been reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact these proposals into law as soon as possible.
Today, another first. This is the first-ever Congressional hearing on the enforcement of human rights laws in the United States.
Accountability for Human Rights Abusers in the United States
The end of the last century was marked by horrific human rights abuses in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda. The early years of this century have seen ongoing atrocities being committed in, among other places, Darfur and Burma.
While a growing number of perpetrators of human rights abuses have been held accountable in international, hybrid and state tribunals, a much larger number of perpetrators have escaped accountability for their crimes. Some of these human rights violators have fled to the United States.
In the Subcommittee’s last hearing, we discussed how our immigration laws prevent some victims of human rights abuses from finding refuge in the United States. It is a tragic irony that, at the same time as we turn away these deserving refugees, war criminals have found sanctuary in our midst.
How we as a country treat suspected perpetrators of serious human rights abuses in the United States sends an important message to the world about our commitment to human rights and the rule of law. As the late Simon Wiesenthal, the world’s leading Nazi hunter, often said, the appropriate response to human rights violations is “justice, not vengeance.”
Now I would like to show a brief graphic video we created for this hearing to provide some context for our discussion.
Our country has a long and proud tradition of providing refuge to victims of persecution. These victims hope to leave behind the terrible abuses they have suffered in their countries of origin and begin a new life in the United States. They should not have to come across those who tortured them, as Edgegayehu Taye did at the hotel in Atlanta, Georgia where she worked as a waitress. One day, she walked out of an elevator and saw Kelbessa Negewo, the man who had supervised her torture in Ethiopia, who was working as a bellhop at the same hotel.
These victims should not have to fear retaliation or the threat of retaliation for speaking out against those who persecuted them, as one of our witnesses today, Dr. Juan Romagoza Arce, and many like him, have experienced.
I want to commend the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security for their efforts to hold accountable human rights violators who have found safe haven in our country. But more must be done. During today’s hearing, we will explore what the U.S. government is doing and what more it could do to identify, investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators of serious human rights abuses or deport them to be held accountable in an adequate forum. We will also explore what the U.S. government is doing to prevent such perpetrators from entering the United States in the first place.
To my knowledge, there has only been one indictment in the United States of a suspected perpetrator for committing a serious human rights abuse. This is unacceptable. We must ask ourselves why. Why do so many suspected human rights abusers find a safe haven in the United States? Is the government doing enough with its existing authority? Are new laws granting the government greater authority and jurisdiction necessary?
Torture is the only serious human rights violation that is a crime under U.S. law if committed outside the United States by a non-U.S. national. That’s why Senator Coburn and I have introduced legislation that would give the government authority to prosecute individuals found in the United States who have participated in genocide, human trafficking and the use or recruitment of child soldiers anywhere in the world. I hope that this hearing will shed light on whether additional loopholes in the law hinder effective human rights enforcement.
The United States has a proud tradition of leadership in the promotion of human rights and the world watches our steps in this field closely. By holding perpetrators of serious human rights abusers found in the United States accountable, we will demonstrate our commitment to upholding the human rights principles we have long advocated and discourage human rights violators from fleeing to the United States.