WASHINGTON (May 6, 2010) - A bill to convict individuals who have engaged in civilian atrocities but have found safe haven in the United States was approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill (S. 1346) cleared on a voice vote after a committee meeting held off the Senate floor. It would close loopholes in present law that make it virtually impossible to bring charges in the United States against someone who commits so-called crimes against civilians in another country. The bill now goes to the Senate.
There have been over the years widespread mass killings in regions such as Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo and Darfur.
The committee considered the bill sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., two weeks ago but further action was put off after some Republican concerns were raised over definitions. A Durbin amendment was adopted by voice vote that met the concerns. They included a more specific definition of a "widespread" attack against civilians. The amendment defined widespread as at least 50 victims where the original bill had no number.
The bill would allow prosecution in the United States for atrocities committed overseas with penalties ranging from 20 year to life in prison.
A crime against humanity is considered a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population. The bill includes murder, enslavement, torture, rape, extermination, hostage taking or ethnic cleansing.
"Currently there is no federal law prohibiting crimes against humanity," Durbin has said. "As a result the U.S. government is unable to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity who have found safe haven in our country."
The Bush administration said in 2007 that over 1,000 war criminals have found safe haven in the United States, according to Durbin.
At the earlier meting, Durbin held up a photograph of alleged Serbian war criminal Marko Boskic who was living in Massachusetts in 2004 and accused of participating in the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia where about 7,000 Muslim boys and men were killed. "Because the United States does not have crimes against humanity statute, the only option was to prosecute Boskic for visa fraud," said Durbin. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
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Markup Reports offer "you are there" coverage of every key House and Senate markup session. Filed and archived by bill number, the reports include roll call votes on amendments and final passage.