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On Thursday, at least four countries ratified the Rome Statute at a special signing ceremony at United Nations Headquarters, thus ensuring establishment of the International Criminal Court. The ICC will be the first permanent international court capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave violations of international law. The ICC substantially advances the legacy of the Nuremberg trials. When those trials concluded after World War II, the international community planned to establish a permanent court, but the Cold War intervened. The 1946 hopes and plans — developed in the shadow of the horrors of WWII — are finally to be fulfilled. Ironically, while the United States led the effort to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, it has failed to join with the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and other countries that have ratified the treaty to establish the ICC. Although President Clinton signed the treaty, the Senate has not yet ratified it, and President Bush has declared that the U.S. will not become a party. Regardless of one’s position on the ICC, one thing is clear: The United States can still play an important role in bringing international war criminals to justice by pursuing human rights abusers who have come to the United States. In a carefully documented report released this week, Amnesty International estimates that hundreds of torturers are currently living in the United States, and that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of torturers and other serious human rights abusers are granted visitor visas each year. The Center for Justice & Accountability, a human rights organization established in San Francisco in 1998, helps refugees use the U.S. courts and international law to bring these torturers to justice in U.S. courts. CJA has brought civil suits against the following perpetrators who live in the U.S., and whose cases are highlighted in the Amnesty report: � Nikola Vuckovic, a member of a Bosnian Serb paramilitary group who brutally tortured non-Serbs held in detention camps during 1992-94, the first years of the Balkan wars. � Carlos Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia, two retired Salvadoran generals who commanded forces that committed widespread torture and other human rights abuses against civilians during 1979-83. � Armando Fernandez-Larios, a member of the Caravan of Death, the most notorious of the death squads that operated in 1973 under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. While these civil suits provide a measure of accountability for the perpetrators and satisfaction for their victims, criminal justice is also necessary. In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed a law that enables the Department of Justice to launch criminal prosecutions of people who committed torture anywhere in the world, so long as they come within the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. To date, the DOJ has not completed a single prosecution. In one case, when the DOJ managed to detain a Peruvian suspected torturer, the State Department intervened, claiming that he had diplomatic immunity, a claim that was disputed by independent experts as well as some State Department insiders. The U.S. government should make a concerted effort to prosecute torturers in the United States. That entails, first and foremost, ensuring adequate funding for the investigation and prosecution of such crimes, and support for such prosecutions from the State Department. Prosecuting torturers advances America’s vital interests. There is a decided overlap, as the INS and State Department can document, between torturers and terrorists, and between the officials who repress democracy and those who support illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons and people. Indeed, the defendant Armando Fernandez-Larios pleaded guilty in 1987 to being an accessory after the fact to an act of terrorism that took place in the heart of Washington, D.C. — the 1976 car-bombing that killed former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffett. Moreover, going after human rights abusers is also the right thing to do. It reminds the American public and the rest of the world of our fundamental commitment to equal justice for all. It is particularly important to remember and invigorate this commitment now, when the spotlight is on the United States for failing to support the ICC and for setting up military commissions that do not comply with minimum international standards of due process. Sandra Coliver is executive director of the Center for Justice & Accountability, an S.F.-based human rights law group that represents torture victims in suits against persecutors now residing in the United States.

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