Key Senate Panel Seeks Greater Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity

WASHINGTON–An overflow crowd was on hand today for an unprecedented U.S. Senate hearing exploring means of ensuring greater accountability for perpetrators of crimes against humanity, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

Chaired by Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL), who heads the Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, the hearing provided legislators an opportunity to hear from experts regarding the crafting of U.S. laws to empower the prosecution of individuals who have committed genocide and other crimes against humanity.

"This subcommittee is focused on legislation, not lamentation," proclaimed Chairman Durbin at outset of the hearing. In his remarks, he focused on the ongoing genocide in Darfur, making it clear that "part of the solution is to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of these horrific crimes. Otherwise they will continue to act with impunity." The Illinois Senator emphasized that U.S. efforts will "ring hollow unless we lead the world in punishing those responsible for the gravest human rights violations."

A main theme that ran throughout the hearing was the lack of U.S. laws that would allow for the prosecution in the United States of those who have committed mass killings on foreign soil. Several Senators noted how the absence of this legislation undermines the ability of the United States to hold accountable those responsible for the Darfur Genocide and the crimes currently being committed inChad.

The Armenian National Committee of America will be offering written testimony to be submitted as part of the permanent record of this hearing.

In his remarks, panel member Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) stressed that: "The failure to prosecute those guilty of crimes against humanity makes it more likely that such crimes will be repeated." In written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee, actress and human rights activist Mia Farrow underscored that "our response as human beings and as a nation must be more vigorous, more courageous, and more effective."

Witness Gayle Smith, the Co-Founder of the ENOUGH Project and a Senior Fellow for the Center for American Progress, highlighted the necessity of both United States legislation and concerted governmental action: "By championing the cause of accountability, we send a signal to the international community that the United States stands for justice and reinforce the moral foundations from which we lead." Additional witnesses were Diane Orentlicher, Professor of Law at American University; Daoud Hari, author of "The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur," and; Joey Cheek, U.S. Olympic speed skater and founder of Team Darfur.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law was formed in 2007. At the inaugural hearing, Chairman Durbin presented a video entitled, "Genocide and the Rule of Law," which began with a powerful mention of the Armenian Genocide, and went on to cite the other genocides of the 20th century. The film documented efforts by genocide law champion, former Sen. Bill Proxmire (D-WI), who made over 3,000 Senate speeches in support of U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention and the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), in his moving opening remarks, cited a poem inspired by the Armenian atrocities, but which sadly describes the inhumanity of all subsequent genocides.

The ANCA offered testimony as part of this inaugural hearing.

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