The U.S. President Joe Biden last week signed into law the “Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act” which authorises the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute citizens of any country in the United States for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.
This is expected to severely restrict the entry into the U.S. of those accused of war crimes in foreign countries.
The US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice (GCJ), Beth van Schaack, tweeted: “President Biden signed into law the historic ‘Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act’ giving DOJ jurisdiction to prosecute persons present in the U.S. for war crimes committed anywhere, regardless of the nationality of alleged perpetrator or victim. This law, passed with strong bipartisan support, better aligns the US with our allies and the Geneva Conventions, and gives DOJ the ability to try Russians responsible for war crimes in Ukraine should they come to the US.”
The act amends the war crimes provision in the federal criminal code to ensure that U.S. courts can prosecute perpetrators of war crimes who are present in the United States, regardless of the perpetrator or victim’s nationality or where the crime took place.
This amendment was long pushed for by human rights advocates as well as government officials, as it closes an impunity gap for war crimes, brings U.S. war crimes legislation in line with Geneva Convention obligations, and better aligns U.S. jurisdiction over war crimes with that for torture, genocide, and recruitment of child soldiers.
Although the amendment increases the prospect of U.S. prosecutions for war crimes, it will not result in a deluge of war crimes trials. In what follows, this article outlines the requirements that must be met for a war crimes prosecution to proceed in U.S. courts, explains the new changes in relation to the previous law, and offers recommendations for how to further increase accountability prospects for atrocity crimes within the U.S. judicial system.
Under the newly amended war crimes statute, U.S. courts have jurisdiction over war crimes in any of the following cases: (1) the offense was committed in whole or in part within the United States; (2) the victim or perpetrator is (a) a U.S. national, (b) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (c) a member of the U.S. armed forces; or (3) the offender is present in the United States, regardless of the victim or perpetrator’s nationality or where the act was committed. The jurisdictional grants provided under (1), 2(b), and (3) are new and may increase the prospect of justice in U.S. courts.
With Agency Reports