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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I rise today as the lead Republican sponsor of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. I thank my colleague, Senator Durbin, for introducing this important piece of legislation.

Senator Durbin serves as the chairman and I serve as the ranking member of the new Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law in the Senate Judiciary Committee. We held our first hearing, entitled ``Genocide and the Rule of Law,'' on February 5, 2007. There could not be a more appropriate way to begin examining the law as it relates to human rights than to determine what we can and must do to prevent and stop genocide. The United States is a signatory of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention provides that the contracting parties must ``undertake to prevent and to punish'' the crime of genocide. We have also passed a law implementing the Genocide Convention.

However, our hearing demonstrated that there are changes that need to be made in law and foreign policy to respond to the ongoing genocide in Sudan and to any genocide that may occur elsewhere in the future. Fortunately, two of these changes can be accomplished right now.

The first change can be accomplished through a bill Senators Durbin and Cornyn introduced last week, of which I am a cosponsor. That bill, the Sudan Divestment Authorization Act of 2007, will allow State and local governments to prohibit the investment of State assets in the Government of Sudan or companies with certain business relationships with Sudan, while the Government of Sudan is subject to sanctions under U.S. law. The second change can be accomplished through the bill we are introducing today, the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. This act will ensure that our justice system has the authority to prosecute someone who has committed genocide if that person is found or brought into the United States.

Under current law, the United States can deny admission to and exclude aliens from the United States on human rights grounds. The Attorney General can also consider avenues for the prosecution of aliens who have committed certain crimes, including genocide. However, the Attorney General can only prosecute a perpetrator of genocide if he committed his crimes within the United States or is a U.S. national.

What does this mean? It means that if a person who plans or participates in the genocide occurring right now in Darfur travels to the United States on vacation, business, or even to live here for an extended period of time--as a refugee or student, for instance--a court in the United States cannot touch him. The best our justice system can do is deport him once his crime is discovered.

Without question, it may be more appropriate in some cases to extradite someone who commits genocide to his home country or turn him over to an international tribunal. However, there are also times when a person's home country may not be willing to prosecute him and there is no viable alternative for prosecution. In these cases, extraditing a criminal would be no different than setting him free. This bill will not force our justice system to prosecute those who commit genocide just because they are found on our soil--it simply gives us the option. Nonetheless, in America we are blessed with great resources and the most effective and just legal system in the world. With these blessings comes great responsibility. It is contrary to our system of justice to allow perpetrators of genocide to go free without fear of prosecution.

It simply makes no sense to withhold from our justice system the authority to prosecute someone who is found in the United States and who committed a crime as atrocious as genocide just because he is not American and did not commit the crime here. We have passed tough laws that ensure that we can prosecute anyone found in the United States who has committed terrorist acts or supports terrorism. We do not want to become a safe haven for terrorists, so I ask: Do we want to be a safe haven for those who have committed genocide? The answer should be clear.

Fundamentally, we must decide if genocide is a bad enough crime, no matter where it happens, that it warrants the same treatment as terrorism-related crimes. I deeply believe that it is, and that is why I am proud to cosponsor this bill today.

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