Move swiftly on Global Criminal Justice Ambassador 

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In the final hours prior to the Senate’s recess last month, it was heartening to see many of President Joe Biden’s nominees for ambassadorships confirmed. Lengthy gaps in the leadership of America’s global diplomatic corps can undermine the integrity of U.S. foreign policy and risk national security.       

Still missing, however, is America’s coordinating leadership, both in Washington and abroad, in the pursuit of international justice. Biden’s nominee for Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice, Beth Van Schaack, awaits a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Senate vote. This empty chair in Foggy Bottom is all the more impactful as atrocity crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, continue to wreak havoc across the globe — mass murders and rape, ethnic cleansing, and ceaseless destruction of civilian habitats that spawn chaos and instability and shock our consciences. Awaiting the new ambassador at large is a long list of situations where U.S. leadership is needed to strengthen accountability for atrocity crimes, including in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Cameroon, the Xinjiang region of China, Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan, and South Sudan.

All of these unfortunate realities are, or should be, nonpartisan as they go to the core of human existence. They demonstrate, in spades, the need to enhance U.S. multilateral leadership, intra-governmental coordination, and creative ideas about how to prevent and respond to atrocities. We know from our own respective years in this position that the leadership of the Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) in the State Department is critical to help ensure that atrocity crimes, first and foremost, are rightfully focused upon and that new challenges of accountability are properly addressed.

There also are justice issues being pursued before the International Court of Justice where an American judge sits, the U.N. Human Rights Council where the United States recently was elected to a seat, and in domestic courts at home and abroad. Review of a crimes against humanity bill to fill gaps in the federal criminal code also awaits Congress. The ambassador at large would help coordinate the U.S. government’s engagement on all these fronts.

Van Schaack, an accomplished academic and former deputy at GCJ, will not be alone if confirmed. For example, the Senate was smart to confirm three of the senior officials who will be critical to enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Act: Ambassador to China R. Nicholas Burns; the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, Ramin Toloui; and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain. The Act will provide sharper economic and labor tools to address labor exploitation as part of efforts to achieve accountability and justice for the atrocity crimes committed against China’s Uyghur citizens. 

We urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then the full Senate, to move quickly on this important diplomatic post, which Van Schaack would be the first woman to fill.

Todd Buchwald, Stephen Rapp, David Scheffer, and Clint Williamson served respectively as U.S. ambassadors for global criminal justice in the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations. The views expressed are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect any institution with which they are associated.

Tags Crimes against humanity Human rights International law Joe Biden Office of Global Criminal Justice State Department

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