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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal David J. Scheffer, Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues

Address to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations,
Orlando, Florida, December 17, 1999

Milosevic, Pinochet, and Us:
Responding to Crimes Against Humanity

It is truly an honor to be here in Orlando this morning, at the 65th Biennial Convention of the Union of the American Hebrew Congregations. I want to thank Rabbi Eric Yoffie and Rabbi David Saperstein for their invitation. Although we are in the land of Disney, I have a grim agenda to bring to your attention. But it is an agenda that this audience of distinguished leaders should appreciate.

The legacy of the Holocaust, which includes much unfinished business to render a just accounting for that massive crime, occupies the work of many offices in the U.S. Federal Government. The institutional structure includes the State Department's Office of War Crimes Issues, which I head; the Office of Special Investigations at the Justice Department; and the significant negotiating effort of Stuart Eizenstat, now the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, to establish a fair financial accounting for the crimes of the Nazi regime.

The first crimes against humanity were prosecuted on an international scale at the Nuremberg trials more than 50 years ago. The Genocide Convention was 50 years old last year, and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 celebrated their 50th anniversary this year. And yet today, on the eve of the new millennium when the technological, economic, and artistic triumph of mankind brings new meaning to civilization, the mega-crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and significant war crimes still occur. Notwithstanding the end of the Cold War, the last decade has been extraordinary in the wave of atrocities that have engulfed innocent civilian populations. While we must never forget the unparalleled magnitude of the killings during the Holocaust, we must also recognize that on our watch, during our stewardship of civilized society, horrendous mass killings and other serious violations of international humanitarian law are occurring at an astonishing pace across the globe.

As Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, I have the responsibility to help formulate U.S. policy responses to atrocities committed anywhere in the world. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been tireless in her commitment to the work of my office and the U.S. Government's overall response mechanism to atrocities. We are by no means batting 1,000. But we are confronting the challenge head-on both in terms of accountability and prevention.

In my work, I travel the world and witness both the evils of humankind and the valiant efforts made by so many who seek to end injustice. This year alone atrocities in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, East Timor, and Chechnya have dominated our work. Other mass killings have shattered and in many cases continue to tear asunder societies in Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and the Great Lakes Region of central Africa -- all crime scenes where we are engaged.

Today I will share with you some of what we know about events in Chechnya, East Timor, and elsewhere. I will also update you on efforts to bring Milosevic and Pinochet to justice, the recent conclusion of another case from World War II, ongoing efforts to set up a permanent international criminal court to address war crimes, and the atrocities prevention work of the Administration.


The ongoing conflict in Chechnya is very much of concern to all of us who want to see an end to the fighting now going on there. The United States does not question Russia's right to fight terrorism or insurgencies on its soil. However, President Clinton spoke on December 8 and on other occasions of the critical importance of both sides to the conflict respecting the lives and property of civilians. Many other governments in Europe and elsewhere have expressed similar concerns in recent weeks. We have noted that the Russian Government appears to be responding to some of these concerns. Still, current reports from the Grozny theater have not put to rest the serious concerns of the international community about what is happening to civilians in Chechnya.

There have been accusations that Russian forces have intentionally targeted civilians. We call on the Russian Government to conduct a full and impartial investigation of these allegations. We certainly abhor any intentional targeting of civilians. Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits violence against non-combatants, Article 13 of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions states that civilians shall not be intentionally attacked, and the OSCE Code of Conduct states that due care must be taken to avoid injury to civilians or their property. Additionally, the customary law of internal armed conflict prohibits the intentional targeting of civilians.

The human cost to date of a military solution in Chechnya has been high, and recent reports of the fighting for the Chechen capital of Grozny and nearby towns have shown that the fighting is fierce. That is why we continue to urge a political solution and why Secretary Albright is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov today in Europe.

Nazi War Crimes

The Office of War Crimes Issues facilitates in other countries, where possible, the prosecution of former Nazis accused of serious crimes. Earlier this year, for example, with the assistance of the U.S. Government, the last known surviving concentration camp commander from World War II, Dinko Sakic, was convicted in a court in Zagreb, Croatia. Sakic was given the maximum sentence under Croatian law for war crimes, 20 years in prison. As Sakic is 76, this is effectively a life sentence. His case is currently on appeal to the Croatian Supreme Court.

The Sakic trial is important because it is the first World War II war crimes trial in Eastern Europe. It would not have come about without the work of organizations such as B'nai B'rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Institute. The United States Government and the Government of Israel played an important role in encouraging the governments involved to give this case the highest priority for investigation and prosecution. We provided many documents from the National Archives in Washington to assist the prosecutor's efforts to build a strong case. I personally delivered documents in Zagreb and met in Washington with the prosecution team. Secretary Albright herself intervened on a number of occasions to ensure that Sakic stood trial, that the prosecution was a vigorous one, and that the trial would meet international standards of fairness and due process.

The United States salutes the many courageous witnesses who came forward to testify despite the passage of the 55 years since Sakic held the power of life and death over the inmates of the Jasenovac camp. The Croatian prosecutors put together a strong case under what, for any prosecutor, would be difficult circumstances.

While the Office of War Crimes Issues pursues justice against individual perpetrators from the Nazi era, the U.S. Government is also closely engaged on the question of monetary compensation for lost assets and slave labor during the Holocaust. This has been a difficult effort, but one on which Treasury Deputy Secretary Stu Eizenstat, formerly an Under Secretary in the State Department, has labored tirelessly for many years. The recent settlement announced in the slave labor cases, and which should be signed today in Berlin, is enormously significant for the victims of Nazi barbarism, and it is precedent-setting.

Former Yugoslavia

The legacy of Nuremberg is alive today in courts in The Netherlands and East Africa. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, handed down its most recent decision on December 14 -- a sentence of 40 years, its most severe so far, to Goran Jelesic, a Bosnian Serb former camp guard, who referred to himself as the "Serb Adolf," for the murder and torture of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the spring of 1992. The ICTY has indicted five individuals, foremost among them Slobodan Milosevic, for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kosovo. We are confident that more indictments will be issued soon.

To date, the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal has taken 41 indictees into custody in The Hague. Thirty-two remain at large, including many of the most prominent indictees such as Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and, of course, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Despite the Tribunal's success to date, we all recognize history is likely to measure the credibility and will of the international community by the Tribunal's ability to bring the most notorious indictees to justice.

We share the frustration and impatience of those who want to see those at large brought before the bar of justice in The Hague. As Secretary Albright has often said, there is no statute of limitations for these crimes. We have sought and continue to seek ways to bring pressure to ensure the transfer of indictees residing on Serbian territory to The Hague. Our demand that indictees, such as Milosevic, Karadzic, Arkan, Mladic, and the "Vukovar Three," face justice and our determination to assist in that objective will not change.


Let me turn to another part of the world--the pending case against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

As you may recall, Pinochet ruled Chile from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. Pinochet left power in 1990 after losing a 1988 referendum on his continuation in office. He became a Senator-for-Life, which affords him immunity under Chile's 1978 Amnesty law. Since 1978, Chilean courts have limited the application of the 1978 law. A number of Pinochet's subordinates are now facing human rights trials in Chile. There are additional obstacles to prosecution in Chile of Pinochet, including his Senatorial immunity, but human rights groups have commented favorably on progress toward accountability in Chile.

When Pinochet traveled to England in September 1998 to seek medical treatment, a court in Spain sought his extradition. The original basis for the extradition request was a Spanish law asserting universal jurisdiction to try certain kinds of cases, irrespective of where they occurred and without regard to the nationality of the victim. Subsequent decisions by the British courts have limited extraditable charges to torture and conspiracy to torture committed after December 1998. The case has raised a number of important and controversial legal issues because of Pinochet's status as a former head of state and the Spanish court's assertion of jurisdiction over crimes committed in Chile. At present, an October 8 Bow Street Magistrate's ruling that Pinochet is extraditable to Spain is under appeal to Britain's High Court. A decision on that appeal is expected in late March. The U.K. has also responded to a Chilean request that Pinochet be released on humanitarian grounds by offering an independent medical assessment of his condition. That assessment has yet to take place.

The United States has long recognized the importance of accountability and justice, as well as the choices made by countries like Chile to achieve reconciliation in making the transition to democracy. The United States condemned the abuses of the Pinochet Government when it was in power. The extradition of Pinochet to Spain is a matter that we believe can best be solved by the courts of the United Kingdom and by the Governments of Chile, the United Kingdom, and Spain. One thing that the United States Government can do and is doing is to declassify and release all the documents we can, subject to the protection of intelligence sources and methods, regarding political violence and human rights abuses of the Pinochet era. The United States has declassified and released thousands of documents, and thousands more will be released in June.

East Timor

In East Timor civilians paid only a few months ago for their vote to reject autonomy within Indonesia in favor of full independence. The international community was able to use diplomacy to help bring an end to the violence. As widespread violence and intimidation on the part of "pro-autonomy" militias raged, the international community made clear to Jakarta that it was prepared to step in.

If the militias had had their way, the results of the referendum would not have been put into effect and those responsible for atrocities in East Timor would have enjoyed impunity in perpetuity. In the end, the Government of Indonesia, to its credit, ultimately allowed the will of the East Timorese people to prevail. In addition, Jakarta allowed a multinational force to re-establish order in East Timor and handed over power to the United Nations transitional authority.

A number of efforts to piece together what exactly happened in Timor are currently underway. We do know that some 230,000 people were forced to flee their homes, often at gunpoint. As a result of a well-orchestrated, scorched-earth campaign, approximately 80% of the buildings in Dili, the East Timor capital, were burned. We do not yet know how many people were killed or raped in this orgy of violence, but credible reports paint a very grim picture that merits full investigation.

With strong U.S. support, reports of atrocities are being investigated both by a UN-appointed commission and by an Indonesian Commission of Inquiry. We want to see those responsible held accountable. We cannot let go unchallenged the policy -- as enunciated last week by the civilian Defense Minister -- of exempting Indonesia's top generals from prosecution for murders, torture, rapes, and other atrocities committed by their troops. "We can't go up into the high ranks," Defense Minister Juwono had said, "as they were just carrying out state policy." The implications of this statement are extremely troubling and are in direct contradiction to the law and principles set down more than 50 years ago in Nuremberg. Fortunately, with the weight of public opinion, Indonesian President Abdurraham Wahid reversed the policy, stating that he would allow prosecution of Indonesia's ranking generals if evidence links them to the violence that ravaged East Timor this fall.

Rwanda Tribunal

While much attention has been paid to the Yugoslav Tribunal, another tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, has already made significant contributions to international humanitarian law. The Rwanda Tribunal has found key leaders of Rwanda in 1994 guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts committed against their own people. In September 1998, the Rwanda Tribunal handed down the first-ever judgment for the crime of genocide. The judges emphasized that the crime of genocide does not require the actual extermination of a group in its entirety and made clear that rape and sexual violence can constitute genocide in the same way as other acts provided they were committed with the specific intent to destroy the group in whole or in part. I am proud to say that the prosecutor of this historic case is now a member of my staff.

Precisely because the Rwanda Tribunal's apprehension of Rwanda's government and private sector leaders during the 1994 genocide has been so successful, the caseload before the Rwanda Tribunal is daunting in a time of limited international resources. Nonetheless, the United States will continue its strong support for the Rwanda Tribunal, which I visit often, to sustain the memory of and seek justice for the 800,000 victims of ethnic hatred in that country. But the administration of the Tribunal will have to improve rapidly if the support of the international community is to continue.


With respect to Iraq, the United States Government is determined to see Saddam Hussein and his inner circle stripped of their power and brought to justice. Saddam's regime has murdered many tens of thousands of its own citizens, frequently with poison gas. It continues to commit numerous atrocities against the Kurds, the Turkomen of northern Iraq, and the Shia of the south. Political opponents of any kind are subject to imprisonment, torture, and summary execution. The regime perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Iran and Kuwait and used massive crimes against the environment as a political weapon. During the Gulf War, Iraq fired 42 Scud missiles -- indiscriminate terror weapons -- at population centers in Israel. These firings were a clear violation of the laws of war. This was particularly egregious given that Israel was a non-belligerent.

The United States supports the creation of an international tribunal for Iraq, as was done for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Additionally, we are assisting various NGOs to gather evidence for use in prosecutions in foreign domestic courts if the opportunity arises. Every day Saddam's list of crimes grows, as does the need for accountability. This is a man and a regime who have brutally and systematically committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for years, are committing them now, and will continue committing them until the international community finally says enough.

International Criminal Court

For the past 3 weeks, I have engaged in the latest round of negotiations to establish a permanent International Criminal Court. These are follow-on discussions to the treaty that was negotiated in Rome in the summer of 1998. The Clinton Administration has long supported the goal of a permanent international criminal court as an effective means of enforcing international humanitarian law. We continue to have a deep interest in achieving that goal. But the treaty text that emerged from Rome had flaws that we are hard at work seeking to resolve. We must ensure that the noble aims of the Rome Treaty, namely to prosecute perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes, do not conflict with the critical role nations like the United States play to maintain international peace and security and, when necessary, intervene to protect civilian populations at severe risk from their own armed forces or those of other nations. Kosovo this year might be Exhibit A for that purpose. The treaty -- without more -- could potentially inhibit the enforcement of international law by the very countries most capable and willing to use military force for the protection of human rights.

Because U.S. armed forces deployed throughout the world will remain an integral part of our efforts to identify violations of international humanitarian law, the advantages of full U.S. participation in the treaty regime far outweigh the perceived advantages of the current treaty text, which overreaches its jurisdiction. The Department of Defense recently issued a directive applicable to all United States armed forces. The directive requires that all possible, suspected, or alleged violations of the law of war be documented and reported quickly. The military commanders on the scene now have a specific duty to take steps to preserve evidence of violations, which will then be transmitted to appropriate authorities.

We believe our concerns about the treaty are resolvable, and we are working very hard to achieve our objective of an effective and viable court that merits the support of responsible governments. In this process, we have consulted closely with the Government of Israel, which has had profound concerns about the reach of the treaty. I am pleased to report today that one of Israel's primary concerns about the treaty appears to have been resolved during the latest round of negotiations following our own very active efforts for almost 2 years.

Atrocities Prevention

Let me say a word now about prevention of atrocities, a major function of my office. Preventing atrocities and ensuring commitment to humanitarian law requires commitment from many nations. Last year, President Clinton launched an atrocities prevention mechanism that includes the establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Inter-Agency Working Group, which I have the privilege to lead, as a focal point within the U.S. Government for identifying and coordinating policy responses to atrocities. The group focuses on those parts of the world where an outbreak of atrocities is imminent, or where its occurrence requires immediate attention to deter further killing. Recently, we examined both Burundi and Angola as countries where the worst can occur at any moment. We are extremely pleased that Nelson Mandela has just agreed to mediate peace talks between rival groups in Burundi. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke just returned from Angola, where he stressed the need for more preventive actions, including stronger backing for the UN sanctions regime on the rebel group UNITA now so ably coordinated by Canada's permanent representative to the United Nations.

We have also worked with other governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to cooperate on the prevention, amelioration, and prosecution of those responsible for atrocities worldwide. At a conference held at the Holocaust Museum in October, the United States and other participants representing various governmental and non-governmental entities put forth a statement affirming such principles. Some of the key assertions made in this Statement of Principles include:

  • The desire to increase respect for and observance of the rights of all persons to live without fear of arbitrary or extrajudicial killing, torture, mutilation, and other serious physical abuse.

  • The desire to take all feasible measures to enhance international cooperation and coordinated efforts in the struggle against mass acts of murder, wanton violence, torture, rape as a weapon of war, and other gender-based violence against civilian populations. The deliberate targeting of civilians, especially children, needs special attention.

  • The need for intensified efforts to identify patterns of atrocities quickly in order to facilitate prompt responses via the creation of an informal atrocities prevention and response network that will focus on the policy linkages among human rights concerns, atrocities, international law enforcement, and international institutions. Such a network will identify emerging trends and potential responses based on information sharing and will help develop coordinated policy options that will be raised to appropriate governmental and institutional levels.

Patterns of atrocities often have an international dimension that requires regional coordination of economic, military, humanitarian, peace-building, development, and diplomatic or other responses. The United Nations and regional organizations such as the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of African Unity, the G-8, and others have an important role to play in this regard. The human rights bodies and other relevant actors of the United Nations system have critical responsibilities related to these objectives and should be supported more vigorously by Member States of the United Nations, including with voluntary financial support.

As I said earlier, we are by no means batting 1,000 on atrocity prevention. Indeed, 1999 was a spectacular year of killing in Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Angola, Chechnya, and elsewhere. But progress was made in some of these areas to deter future killings and to launch mechanisms of accountability. Our work on atrocity prevention is a work in progress. My great hope is that by this time next year, we will have institutionalized the process within the federal bureaucracy and with other governments and that the important work of atrocity prevention will be continued and further strengthened by the next Administration.

Diamond Trade

One area that deserves further attention, for example, is how illicit trade fuels conflict. Trade in illicit diamonds, for example, has been known to help finance several conflicts in Africa. All too often, massive civilian carnage has been associated with those conflicts. Consider for a moment the thousands of maimed civilians in Sierra Leone, who have paid for that conflict with their limbs. If we are serious about wanting to prevent atrocities, we need to be willing take on difficult issues such as the linkage between illicit diamond trading and atrocities. We need to consider, specifically, how to devise a new regime to distinguish between diamonds that are "clean" and those that are "bloodied." We are not likely to find any easy answers, but the U.S. Government is committed to working with producing and consuming countries, as well as the diamond industry, toward this end. We owe it to the victims and survivors of bloody conflict to do so.

Need for Resources

The International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda have made much progress toward enforcing international humanitarian law in the past few years. Unfortunately, enforcement cannot take place unless there are adequate resources in place to enable tribunal authorities to perform their work professionally and efficiently. We here in the United States do more than just talk about justice for war crimes -- we put our money on the table. We have provided over $157 million to the operations of the ICTY and ICTR since 1994, as well as contributing staff to the tribunals themselves and technical assistance in the field. We expect to contribute another $50 million next year.

  • The United States pays through our UN dues the largest share of each tribunal's assessed budget.

  • We also devote an enormous amount of voluntary support through the activities of many U.S. personnel in Washington, The Hague, Kigali, and elsewhere to provide information, facilitate various tribunal activities, and enhance enforcement capabilities.

  • The United States also provides voluntary financial support through numerous means, including jointly funding, with the Government of The Netherlands, a new courtroom for the Yugoslavia Tribunal. In September, the United States made the single-largest voluntary financial contribution in the history of the Yugoslav Tribunal -- $8.45 million -- to cover the Tribunal's 1999 investigative costs in Kosovo. We have contributed as well to the Rwanda Tribunal.

When these efforts are joined with private sector support and even the assistance of state and local governments, the result can create a powerful momentum for justice on a global scale. For example, multinational corporations have a vested interest in the observance of international humanitarian law. Last week, I attended a luncheon in New York City honoring the WestLaw Group for its generous donation to both tribunals of free, unlimited on-line access to WestLaw Internet products to facilitate legal research by Tribunal lawyers and judges. IBM recently donated millions of dollars worth of computer hardware to both tribunals--an enormous contribution to the pursuit of international justice. These companies recognize that when atrocities are unleashed, society at large suffers in so many ways that the cost of atrocities always exceeds their prevention. When atrocities are prevented and when the perpetrators of atrocities are brought to justice, all of us benefit in some way.

Looking to the Future

The United States Government is determined to advance the enforcement of international humanitarian law. It is a responsibility that must be carried into the next millennium. We must make every effort to ensure that the worst crimes of the 20th century are not repeated in the 21st. None of us can or will forget the Nazi war crimes -- arguably the most abominable atrocities of this century. The horrors of the Holocaust must serve to reinforce the resolve of this generation of Americans to eradicate such heinous crimes and guide us in creating a stable and peaceful future for humankind.

The Clinton Administration has laid the institutional infrastructure that will better equip us to prevent atrocities from occurring in the future. But the United States cannot and should not shoulder this burden alone. We must cooperate at all levels, both intra-state and among nations to ensure that the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide that this century witnessed will not mar the history of the 21st century. As the international system continues to evolve into the next century, we must hone our trusted tools of laws to achieve accountability for heinous crimes while striving to create new mechanisms to combat this human abhorrence.

[end of document]

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