Sunday, December 09, 2007

U.S. House of Representatives passes Genocide Accountability Act


The Armenian Assembly of America welcomed the passage of the Genocide Accountability Act (S. 888) yesterday as a crucial step forward in closing a legal loophole that prevents the Justice Department from punishing perpetrators of genocide who find safe haven in the United States, the AAA reported.

The vote in the House of Representatives allows non-U.S. nationals who have entered the United States to be prosecuted for genocide committed outside the country. Under current law, genocide is only a crime if it is committed within the United States or by a U.S. national outside of the country. Conversely, laws regarding torture, material support for terrorism, terrorism financing, hostage taking and other federal crimes allow for extraterritorial jurisdiction for crimes committed outside of the United States by non-U.S. nationals.

“The Genocide Accountability Act is an effort to ensure that our United States’ laws provide adequate authority to prosecute acts of genocide,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “We should not have a situation where perpetrators of genocide are allowed to enter, or reside in the United States and use this country as a safe haven from prosecution.”

“This cannot be the last step,” Conyers added. “If we’re going to fulfill our role in the world as the beacon for basic human rights and freedom from persecution we must continue to develop the humble legislative beginning we have begun today.”

“We are proud to have supported this legislation through the process and concur with Chairman Conyers that this is not the last step,” said Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “The next critical step is to confront denial of genocide by approving H. Res. 106, which reaffirms the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said the 20th century has been called “the Age of Genocide,” adding that the genocides in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire have shown the world “the monstrous potential of totalitarian regimes determined to annihilate entire ethnic, racial and religious groups.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), who introduced the House version (H.R. 2489) of the Genocide Accountability Act, said that the purpose of the measure is to ensure that the perpetrators of genocide are accountable under U.S. law.

“S. 888 will strengthen the reach of U.S. laws to prosecute any individuals found in our country, who have taken part in acts of genocide, in Darfur or anywhere else,” Berman said.

“Genocide continues to be a threat in the world and we should attack it wherever we find it,” said Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA).

Others who spoke in favor of S. 888 on the House floor yesterday included Representatives Stephen Cohen (D-TN), Randy Forbes (R-VA), Mike Pence (R-IN) and Christopher Shays (R-CT).

The Senate bill, introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), is the first piece of legislation produced by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. In February, the Assembly called on Congress to strengthen international legal protection against genocide and its denial in testimony submitted for the Subcommittee’s hearing on “Genocide and the Rule of Law.”

Ardouny also commended Durbin, along with Senator John Ensign (R-NV), for spearheading legislation in the U.S. Senate (S. Res. 106) that would reaffirm the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.

In addition to the Assembly, the Genocide Accountability Act has been endorsed by numerous organizations including African Action, the American Jewish World Service, Amnesty International USA, the Armenian National Committee of America, the Genocide Intervention Network, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International and the Save Darfur Coalition.

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Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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