Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, America’s top diplomat, has wanted to do a bit of reorganizing in the State Department for quite some time now in order to focus on top priorities, such as finding new economic opportunities for American businesses and strengthening the US military prowess. Now it looks like he is going to achieve his goal, just at the expense of programs to promote human rights and fight world poverty.
Tillerson is apparently closing the Office of Global Criminal Justice, reassigning Todd Buchwald, the office’s special coordinator since December, 2015, and a career State Department lawyer, to a position in the State Department’s office of legal affairs. Buchwald was also informed that the other staff members may possibly be shifted to the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
The State Department has neither confirmed nor denied the move. “The State Department is currently undergoing an employee-led redesign initiative, and there are no predetermined outcomes,” a spokesperson said, later emphasizing, “We are not going to get ahead of any outcomes.”
One person who clearly doesn’t approve of the possible shuttering of the office is David Scheffer, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, who also served as the first U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues.
“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,” Scheffer said. “This sends a strong signal to perpetrators of mass atrocities that the United States is not watching you anymore.”
The Office Of Global Criminal Justice was first established by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1997 to raise the importance of confronting mass murder in U.S. foreign policy, largely in response to the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, creating the post of Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues along the way. Over the following two decades, the office joined forces with several international criminal courts in an attempt to bring justice, not only to Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, but also to Cambodia and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the office lobbied for greater U.S. support for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The office also tried to raise the level of awareness of the importance of supporting the prosecution of mass murderers all around the globe, from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even helping to run a special rewards fund for information leading to the apprehension of war criminals.
But sadly, it seems like that’s all in the past now.
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