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Russia's Ukraine War Prompts Deal On Bill to Expand War Crimes Law

Leading senators of both parties have struck a deal over a draft bill that would expand a 1996 war crimes law to give U.S.. courts jurisdiction over cases involving atrocities committed abroad even if neither party is a U.S. citizen, in response to Russia’s apparent targeting of civilians in Ukraine. The idea behind the draft, the New York Times reports, is that if someone who committed war crimes abroad later comes to the U.S. and is discovered, that person could be prosecuted for those actions by the Justice Department. Killings of civilians and the discovery of mass graves in parts of Ukraine that had been occupied by Russian troops have produced an international outcry. Despite partisan polarization that has generally gridlocked Congress, supporters of the bill believe the measure has a realistic chance of quickly becoming law. Senators are in talks with House members about a possible companion bill and expect to file the measure later this week.

“The United States must not be a safe haven for war criminals looking to escape justice in their home country,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the bill’s author. “This bill sends a strong message that people who commit war crimes are not welcome here and should be punished, regardless of where their offense was committed or who they victimized.” The bill makes the law cover any situation in which "the offender is present in the United States, regardless of the nationality of the victim or offender." In the past, U.S. lawmakers decided against having a law like this, saying it would be unwise and could create foreign relations issues. The current bill tries to address this concern by requiring the attorney general to certify in writing that such a prosecution "is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice."

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