EXCLUSIVE: FBI’s War Crimes Unit on the Chopping Block

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
February 10, 2019

[UPDATED] A special unit within the Federal Bureau of Investigation that handles war crimes may be shut down imminently, according to officials familiar with the administration’s decision-making process. The FBI’s International Human Rights Unit takes the lead on investigating individuals within the United States who have been accused of committing international crimes, including war crimes, torture, genocide, female genital mutilation, and the recruitment of child soldiers. It also investigates international crimes committed against or by U.S. citizens abroad and enforces immigration statutes that can be invoked against abusers who cannot be prosecuted for their underlying crimes for whatever reason.

The rationale for suddenly scaling back the United States’ commitment to investigating and prosecuting war criminals is unclear. President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy recognizes the importance of the United States taking the lead on this imperative policy objective:

We will not remain silent in the face of evil. We will hold perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities accountable.

U.S. foreign policy has expressed a commitment to this strategic objective in the form of support for various international accountability efforts, including documenting atrocities in conflicts (such as the ongoing genocide in Myanmar), assisting the remaining U.N. tribunals and other domestic justice processes, and building the law enforcement capacity of foreign partners. Here in the United States, the administration boasts a trio of offices working to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of atrocities, in which the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit plays a vital role:

● The first key component is the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), formed from the unit historically knows as the “Nazi hunters.” These lawyers and analysts focus on prosecuting cases in federal courts in conjunction with local U.S. Attorneys when human rights abusers are found in the United States.

● The second and third components are linked to the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit and the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit (IHRU), which comprise a fusion cell called the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center.

Read the full post at Just Security.