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Following the Atrocities in Bucha, Durbin to Introduce Legislation to Hold Russian War Criminals Accountable

Durbin: Civilization cannot tolerate, and cannot survive, the war crimes we have witnessed in Ukraine going unpunished

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, spoke on the Senate floor to highlight The War Crimes Accountability Act, legislation he will introduce in the coming days to ensure the United States has the tools to hold accountable the perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities. Following the mass killings in Bucha, Ukraine, President Biden declared that they were war crimes, vowing to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable.

One survivor in Bucha, Antonina Pomazanko watched helplessly as Russian soldiers murdered her daughter, Tetiana. Without provocation, Russian soldiers opened fire on their home. 

Durbin said, “There is nothing that will fill the void of loss and despair that Mrs. Pomazanko and millions of Ukrainians are feeling at this moment. But there is more—much more—we, as Americans, must do. The actions of Vladimir Putin harken back to some of Europe’s darkest days, the atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers during World War II, the massacres in former Yugoslavia, days we hope we never have to relive.”

Durbin spoke on the Nuremberg trials after the allied forces liberated Europe in 1945. When the trials first convened at the Palace of Justice, on November 21, 1945, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson delivered the opening statement. He declared, “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”

Durbin continued, “Civilization cannot tolerate, and cannot survive, the war crimes we have witnessed in Ukraine going unpunished. President Biden recognized that fact on Monday, in calling for a war crime trial for the horrors in Ukraine…It is within the power and responsibility of this body to deny safe haven in America—or anywhere—to perpetrators of these heinous crimes.”

Under existing law, foreign war criminals who come to the U.S. cannot be prosecuted, held civilly liable, or deported for their crimes. As a result, current federal law does not cover Russian officials who are responsible for the commission of war crimes in Ukraine, or Russian soldiers who commit such crimes. The U.S. also lacks a statute making crimes against humanity a violation of U.S. law. This was the primary offense prosecuted at Nuremberg and it is a critical tool for holding violators accountable.

Durbin’s War Crimes Accountability Act would amend the War Crimes Act to cover all war criminals who are in the United States; add crimes against humanity to the criminal code; expand the Torture Victim Protection Act’s civil cause of action to include genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; and amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make war crimes and crimes against humanity grounds for inadmissibility.

Durbin concluded, “We must bring war criminals to justice for their horrific crimes—not slap them on the wrist with a visa technicality. The United States must never again provide safe haven for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Our nation led the first prosecutions for such crimes in the Nuremberg trials. It’s time for the United States to take the lead once again. Ultimately, the day will come when Vladimir Putin faces justice. And his name, and his regime, will be remembered in history alongside the worst of the worst.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.