State Dept. Office of Global Criminal Justice on the Chopping Block–Time to save it

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
July 17, 2017

Word out of Washington is that the Trump Administration has started to restructure the State Department and particularly the Under-Secretariat for Civilian Security, Democracy & Human Rights.  “J” (as it is called around Foggy Bottom) encompasses a number of Bureaus and Offices, including the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CT/CVE), the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP).

First on the chopping block appears to be the Office of Global Justice (GCJ). GCJ serves as the principal adviser to the Secretary of State and other governmental agencies on U.S. policy related to the prevention of, and responses to, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.  GCJ also serves as the liaison to international, hybrid, and mixed tribunals exercising jurisdiction over these international crimes, including the International Criminal Court.  Working with other functional and regional bureaus and offices, GCJ participates in atrocity prevention-related activities, including the Atrocities Prevention Board. GCJ’s work is discussed in greater detail at the Samuel Dash Conference at Georgetown Law in April 2017 (the GCJ panel starts at minute 43). Normally run by an Ambassador-at-Large, the Obama Administration never nominated a successor to Ambassador Stephen Rapp, who served in the role from 2009-2015. Since then, the Office has been headed by Special Coordinator, Todd Buchwald, on detail from the Legal Adviser’s Office (“L”).  Buchwald has apparently been told that his detail will terminate shortly; the remaining staff may be folded into DRL.

Unlike the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) (history here) and other offices/bureaus, GCJ is not Congressionally authorized. It does, however, derive guidance and its mandate from longstanding U.S. government policy commitments and legislation, including:

  • The ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007 (22 U.S.C. 8213) directs the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues to assist the President and other senior officials in collecting information regarding incidents that may constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, slavery, or other violations of international humanitarian law.
  • The Department of State Rewards Program Update and Technical Corrections Act of 2012 (S. 2318, in 22 U.S.C. 2708) expanded the Department of State’s authority to issue rewards for information leading to the arrest or conviction of foreign nationals indicted by an international, hybrid, or mixed tribunals for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.

Additionally, GCJ regularly briefs Congress on international justice issues. For example, the Conference Report (H. Conf. Rep. No. 112-331) accompanying the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2012 directed the Secretary of State to submit reports “detailing what steps have been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka and international bodies to thoroughly and credibly investigate war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law during the internal armed conflict, and evaluating the adequacy of steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to hold perpetrators accountable.”  GCJ led an extensive review of diplomatic, open source, and other reporting, and conducted meetings with foreign governments, international organizations, and NGOs to gather information of atrocities. One of the reports is here.  Similarly, the conference report for Public Law 112-74 (the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012”) expressed concern that former Chadian president Hissène Habré has not been extradited from Senegal for prosecution for crimes against humanity, and directed the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations on steps taken by the Government of Senegal to assist in bringing Habré to justice.  GCJ’s report is here.

Read the full post at Just Security