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Durbin, Grassley, Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Broaden War Crimes Jurisdiction

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Victoria Spartz (R-IN), introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, legislation that updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals in the United States regardless of the location or targets of their atrocities. The bill also extends the statute of limitations for war crimes discovered years after they occur.

“Perpetrators committing unspeakable war crimes, such as those unfolding before our very eyes in Ukraine, must be held to account. We have the power and responsibility to ensure that the United States will not be used as a safe haven by the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Our bill will address an egregious gap in our laws to ensure that war criminals who come to the United States can be prosecuted for their crimes,” Durbin said.

“The United States must not be a safe haven for war criminals looking to escape justice in their home country. While laws on the books hold war criminals accountable for acts against Americans, war criminals who enter the United States shouldn't get a free pass just because they haven’t targeted Americans. This bill sends a strong message that people who commit war crimes are not welcome here and should be punished, regardless of where their offense was committed or who they victimized,” Grassley said.

“Our commitment to protecting human rights around the world begins with human rights accountability right here at home. War criminals who commit heinous acts against fellow human beings must not be able to find safe harbor in the United States because of a loophole in our laws. I am proud to cosponsor this legislation that would help ensure that those who violate human rights are brought to justice for their crimes, regardless of where they were committed or whom they were committed against. This bill sends a clear signal that America is a refuge for the persecuted -- not for persecutors,” Leahy said.

“I’m very pleased to be working with Senators Grassley, Durbin and Leahy to update our war crimes statute. Our legislation will help us address the atrocities committed in Ukraine by Russian forces and leaders. This proposal will give the United States jurisdiction to hold accountable any suspected war criminal found in the United States. We must ensure the United States is a war criminal free zone for those who commit atrocities in Ukraine,” Graham said.

“The United States must not be a safe haven for war criminals to avoid accountability. With this legislation, we will ensure that any person present in the United States, regardless of nationality, can be brought to justice for any egregious human rights violation committed under the guise of war. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation finally negates the ‘get out of jail free card’ that has existed in our judicial system for far too long,” Cicilline said.

“This bipartisan and bicameral legislation puts the world on notice: The United States will take names when it comes to those committing war crimes and will leave no rock unturned until those guilty of such atrocities anywhere in the world are brought to justice. I thank my colleagues in the House and the Senate for partnering together to stop these atrocities and to hold the guilty accountable for their actions. Crime knows no borders,” Spartz said.  

Current law allows for the prosecution of people who commit war crimes in the United States or abroad but only if the victim or perpetrator is a U.S. national or servicemember. Violators who target non-Americans are not subject to the law even after they enter the United States. The Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act expands the original war crimes jurisdiction to include war criminals found in the United States, even if they never targeted U.S. nationals.

Bill text for the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act is available here. This legislation comes in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to send a clear message that war criminals from any country are not welcome in the United States.