Pursuing Accountability for Atrocities


  • Beth Van Schaack
Publish Date:
June 13, 2019
Related Organization(s):


Good morning Chairman McGovern, Chairman Smith,and distinguished members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. I am Professor Beth Van Schaack; I teach human rights and international justice at Stanford Law School. I joined the faculty after serving as Deputy to the Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. State Department under the Obama Administration. Early in my career, I worked as a war crimes prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and as a human rights lawyer with the Center for Justice & Accountability, now under the direction of my co-panelist.

I would like to thank you and the Members of this Commission for including me in this critically important hearing and for giving me the opportunity to suggest several concrete and discrete proposals that would strengthen the United States’ ability to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities found on U.S.territory and permit the more effective use of our immigration laws and criminal fraud penalties to hold accountable perpetrators of mass atrocities. Together, these proposals would also prevent the United States from serving as a safe haven for human rights abusers.

Many of these proposals could be implemented through the passage of a criminal law technical amendments act; others would require a more elaborate drafting exercise. All would expand the ability of the United States to exercise leadership in atrocity prevention and response along a number of dimensions: Ensuring that the United States has a comprehensive and robust penal regime to address perpetrators in its midst; modeling what the responsible exercise of the range of jurisdictional bases should entail; taking U.S. treaty obligations seriously through conforming implementing legislation; and promoting the complementarity norm by enabling U.S. courts to prosecute the core international crimes. Putting these authorities in place now will ensure that the United States has the tools it needs to address the next cohort of persecutors who attempt to find safe haven in the United States after committing international crimes in today’s conflicts and repressive states.

Mr. Chairman, I request that this written testimony be made part of the record.