Supporters of the International Criminal Court like to portray it as the best and only venue through which the free world can seek justice for perpetrators of mass atrocities and war crimes. The United States’ incredible, superior record of pursuing and achieving justice is rarely mentioned. But it should be.
More than the ICC or any other international court, the United States continues to lead the world to pursue justice. Justice remains at the core of America’s ideals, as our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution affirm. Americans have worked for decades not only to hold those responsible for mass atrocities to account but also to prevent and mitigate such horrors.
It was the United States that led efforts to put war criminals on trial after WWII. In the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials, the United States led in establishing the courts and prosecuting the cases against German and Japanese officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The principles underpinning these trials spawned the creation of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of War Crimes Issues (now the Office of Global Criminal Justice) in 1997, which I am now honored to lead. This office is committed to pursuing justice regarding genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in partnership with other countries, international organizations, and the NGO community.
The Trump Administration has been particularly assertive in continuing to promote accountability. In August 2017, the Trump Administration made the historic determination that ISIS was responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims, and crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against these same groups and Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. The following November, the Administration concluded that ethnic cleansing took place against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State in Burma, increasing pressure on the Burmese government to promote accountability for mass atrocities.
Secretary Pompeo has continued this record. For example, he has consistently emphasized U.S. support for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which is doing essential work to deliver justice to victims of international crimes committed in Kosovo during and after the conflict 1990s.
Moreover, in September 2019, he declared the Assad regime in Syria was responsible for many atrocities, including some that rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include chemical weapons, extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, and other inhumane acts.
In February of this year, Secretary Pompeo publicly designated the current Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and Acting Chief of Defense Staff, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, for his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, during the final days of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009.
These are no small gestures. Designations come with visa restrictions underscoring our concern over impunity for human rights violations and our support for accountability.
Through GCJ’s War Crimes Rewards Program, the United States is also the only country that offers financial rewards for information that leads to the arrest of certain individuals wanted by international or hybrid tribunals for war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity. Over the life of the program, we have contributed to the arrest of more than 20 individuals accused of terrible crimes.
My office is currently focusing on six individuals wanted by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals for their roles in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Our work gets results: Félicien Kabuga, arrested near Paris in May after 26 years at large, was designated under the Rewards Program. Kabuga was the chief financier and a major instigator of the Rwandan genocide.
With bipartisan Congressional support, GCJ has allocated $5 million for grants supporting efforts to collect and catalog evidence to be used in various courts, from international tribunals to national courts, including trials currently underway in Germany against alleged members of ISIS and the Assad regime.
The State Department’s financial and diplomatic support for the Central African Republic Special Criminal Court and the Hybrid Court for South Sudan provide other concrete examples where the United States has provided substantial support for accountability and justice.
We Americans will continue to pursue justice and get results, just as we’ve done for decades.
Morse Tan is the Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice.