OSI Welcomes New Law on Genocide Prosecution
President Bush signed the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007 into law following its unanimous approval by Congress. The new legislation fills a critical gap in the law by permitting the U.S. government to prosecute people in the United States who are believed to have committed genocide abroad.

December 22, 2007

OSI Welcomes New Law on Genocide Prosecution

Washington D.C. – The Open Society Institute (OSI) hailed the coming into force of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. President Bush signed the bill into law following its unanimous approval by Congress.

The new legislation fills a critical gap in the law by permitting the U.S. government to prosecute people in the United States who are believed to have committed genocide abroad.

“By passing the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007, Congress has struck a major blow against the impunity that sustains perpetrators of ghastly crimes. From now on, those who have violated the basic code of humanity will know they cannot find sanctuary here,” said Diane Orentlicher, currently Special Counsel to the Open Society Institute and professor at American University’s Washington College of Law.

Prior to enactment of this law, a non-U.S. national accused of committing genocide abroad could only be tried for a lesser crimes—such a visa fraud—or be deported to their country of citizenship, where prosecution might be unlikely or impossible.

In Senate testimony in February 2007, Orentlicher in her capacity as a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, urged Congress to consider “legislation that would enable U.S. courts to prosecute individuals suspected of genocide . . . when they are present in U.S. territory.” Following the hearing, Senators Durbin Coburn, Leahy and Cornyn introduced S.888, the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007, which the Senate approved by unanimous consent.

Congressmen Howard Berman introduced an identical bill to the House, and in October 23, 2007, Orentlicher, again in her capacity as a professor at American University, testified in support of the bill before the House Subcommittee and urged swift enactment of the legislation. She cited the example of Ratko Maslenjak, a member of an infamous Serb military unit connected to the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica—judged by two international courts to constitute genocide. But instead of facing trial for genocide, he was merely convicted of lying about his service in the Srebrenica unit when he applied for his green card.

The President signed the bill into law on December 21, 2007. OSI welcomes the law as a critical step forward toward meeting the American obligation to prevent and punish acts of genocide, and calls on the US government to vigorously enforce this statute.

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The Open Society Institute (OSI), a private operating and grantmaking foundation, aims to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform.

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