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Ending Impunity and Mainstreaming Human Rights Accountability


Ending Impunity and Mainstreaming Human Rights Accountability


CJA pursues a range of human rights legislative and policy initiatives to give survivors access to courts and ensure that human rights abusers are brought to justice.

The United States has long recognized that preventing and punishing atrocity crimes is in the national interest. When President Lincoln adopted the “Lieber Code” in 1863, the United States became the first country to codify the modern laws-of-war protecting civilians. Decades later, the United States led the prosecution at Nuremberg and was the first nation to sign the Genocide Convention. But there are still gaps in U.S. law that let perpetrators of atrocity escape justice and deny their victims a day in court.

Working with policymakers and civil society groups, CJA crafts and supports policies that ensure the effective prosecution of atrocity crimes, deny safe haven to their perpetrators, and protect and rehabilitate their victims.

Advancing Criminal Accountability for Mass Atrocities

CJA believes that criminal law is an important tool in the face of mass atrocities—and vital to atrocity prevention policies. We support making crimes against humanity a federal offense and expanding jurisdiction over war crimes to ensure that the world’s worst war criminals could be prosecuted if found on U.S. soil. CJA has campaigned for the passage of critical pieces of legislation, including the Child Soldiers Accountability Act and the Genocide Accountability Act. We also strongly push for the inclusion into all human rights laws of the command responsibility doctrine: a theory of liability which covers military officers or civilian superiors who knew or should have known about abuses taking place under their command and failed to take steps to stop the abuses or punish the offenders.

Advancing Civil Remedies for Survivors

CJA also believes that civil remedies for victims help empower survivors, create historical records of truth, and deny perpetrators the fruits of their crimes. In 1980, the landmark case, Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, first recognized that federal courts are open to victims of torture who seek redress from their abusers. Since then, the United States has been at the forefront of giving survivors of atrocities access to courts.

Human rights litigation has been a badge of honor for the United States, and it has long enjoyed bipartisan support. When President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, it marked an important first step in guaranteeing victims’ access to courts. But more progress can be made. CJA campaigns to expand the Torture Victim Protection Act to include claims for mass atrocities such as genocide that are already defined in U.S. law. This common-sense update would bring the TVPA into line with current federal statutes and dispel any confusion about its scope.

Advancing the Effective Investigation of Human Rights Violators

CJA plays a key role as an intermediary between survivors’ communities and law enforcement agencies. Our cases and investigations are proof positive that victim-driven human rights litigation can work in tandem with the government’s efforts to enforce criminal and immigration law. For example, evidence brought to light in CJA’s lawsuit against former Salvadoran defense minister José Guillermo García became the centerpiece of the government’s deportation proceedings.

CJA has offered recommendations on strengthening U.S. human rights enforcement in multiple rounds of congressional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law and the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. We envision interagency cooperation at the federal level to identify and pursue human rights abusers, and we envision political cooperation at the global level to honor extradition requests and facilitate other accountability mechanisms.

Bringing Human Rights Home

Finally, CJA works to ensure that the United States honors its human rights tradition by confronting its own past abuses. CJA has called for President Obama and the Senate to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page report detailing the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation and torture program. Through our amicus practice, we have supported holding U.S. government contractors liable for torture at Abu Ghraib. And through our impact litigation, we have sought to expose the role of psychologists and medical professionals in designing the abusive interrogation program at Guantanamo Bay.

Our Policy Work

Congressional Testimony