Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning on closing the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice dedicated to advising the Secretary of State on war crimes and genocide, according to a number of former U.S. officials who spoke to ForeignPolicy.com.
Todd Buchwald, the special coordinator for the Office, was told by Tillerson’s office that he would be reassigned to a new post in the State Department’s legal affairs. Buchwald was also informed that his remaining staff could be reassigned to the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Established by then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 1997, the Office was designed to place a greater emphasis on the importance of pursuing justice for crimes committed internationally in the wake of atrocities such as the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. The Office investigates war crimes and collaborates with international governments and organizations to bring alleged war criminals to court.
Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program, lamented the office’s closure. “There’s no mistaking it — this move will be a huge loss for accountability,” he told Foreign Policy.
State Department officials declined to confirm or deny the reports. “The State Department is currently undergoing an employee-led redesign initiative, and there are no predetermined outcomes,” a spokesperson for the Department said. “We are not going to get ahead of any outcomes.” A State Department Official also said that officials often consider closing certain offices “just to see what comes back.”
“This is a very harsh signal to the rest of the world that the United States is essentially downgrading the importance of accountability for the commission of atrocity crimes,” Northwestern Law Professor David Scheffer told Foreign Policy. “This sends a strong signal to perpetrators of mass atrocities that the United States is not watching you anymore.”
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