For Immediate Release
Following reports of the proposed closure of the U.S. State Department office that focuses on war crimes, Physicians for Human Rights today condemned the proposal and released this statement of former U.S. ambassador-at-large Stephen Rapp, PHR board member:
“The proposed closure of the Office of Global Criminal Justice represents a profound lack of understanding of the mechanisms necessary to hold war criminals accountable for their actions.
“I have seen time and time again that having a high-level presidential appointee has made a difference in moving the arc toward justice for the victims of mass atrocities. Without such a position, we would not have had Caesar coming to the United States to present his photographic evidence of Syrian President Assad’s torture and murder of thousands of his own people. We would not have had bipartisan support for expansion of the war crimes rewards program that helped bring Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda to justice. We would not have had U.S. endorsement and funding for the trial of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré in the African court that recently convicted him for crimes against humanity.
“At a time when we need fair trials of the leaders of ISIL to expose their acts of genocide, rape, and robbery, and to prosecute the egregious targeting of hospitals and health workers by the Assad government, who will provide the leadership to overcome bureaucratic resistance and spearhead the diplomacy necessary to gain the support of other governments?
“The promise of ‘never again’ has proven hard to keep. If this Office of Global Criminal Justice closes, it will become even more difficult.”
Stephen Rapp is a board member of Physicians for Human Rights and was the U.S. ambassador-at-large from 2009-2015, heading the Office of War Crimes Issues, which was renamed (in 2012) the Office of Global Criminal Justice, in the U.S. State Department. Before his appointment, he was chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and chief of prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.