WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), today hailed House passage of bipartisan legislation designed to strengthen the federal government’s role in investigating and prosecuting human rights violators taking refuge in the United States.
The Senate approved the measure November 21. The bill passed the House by a vote of 416-3. It now awaits the president signature to become law.
“The passage of this bill sends a message to the world about the U.S. commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law, and signals to human rights abusers that they will not find safe haven in our country,” said Chairman Cardin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a co-sponsor of the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009, S. 1472.
The bill would direct the Attorney General to establish a section within the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice with a mandate to enforce human rights laws. Under the bill, serious human rights offenses include genocide, torture, war crimes or the use or recruitment of child soldiers.
“By creating a human rights division at the Department of Justice, we put institutional force and action behind our words and say to the world that the protection of basic freedoms is a real priority not just rhetoric,” said Co-Chairman Hastings.
Two entities in the Department of Justice are currently responsible for ensuring that perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice. The Office of Special Investigations (OSI) identifies suspected human rights violators who have entered the United States and seeks to prosecute, deport, or extradite them for prosecution abroad The Domestic Security Section (DSS) investigates and prosecutes major human rights violators, particularly those implicated in genocide, torture, and war crimes. This bill provides the Attorney General discretion with respect to merging the offices into one subdivision with the resources, expertise, and jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute, denaturalize, or remove perpetrators of serious human rights crimes.