FBI's International Human Rights Unit Must Be Protected

Trump Administration is shutting down critical law enforcement team

Posted by Mark Hackett on February 18th, 2019

Recent reports state that the Trump Administration is dismantling the FBI's International Human Rights Unit (IHRU). This decision flies in the face of several years of improving U.S. policy on the issues the IHRU deals with, goes against the Trump Administration's own National Security Strategy, and ultimately is counterproductive to both U.S. and global security. 

Just Security has a great piece here about this issue as well.

The timing of this news is incredibly odd. Just a few weeks ago on January 14, President Trump signed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act into law. Amongst other things, this new federal legislation affirmed that atrocity prevention is in the U.S. national interest and calls for a U.S. government-wide strategy to strengthen U.S. preventative action to prevent mass atrocity campaigns. The Elie Wiesel Act passed out of Congress with strong bipartisan support, so both the Legislative and Executive branches clearly understand the importance of these issues.

Members of Congress should vocally oppose the shuttering of the IHRU unit and their critical work. The Justice Department cannot succeed in prosecuting genocidaires, war criminals, and human rights abusers without skilled, dedicated, and well-connected investigators.

What Does The IHRU Do?

According to the FBI, this highly effective unit does the following:

The mission of the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit (IHRU) is to mitigate the most significant threats posed by international human rights violators through effective intelligence collection and targeted enforcement action in collaboration with both domestic and international accountability efforts.

The IHRU leverages the FBI’s investigative expertise, techniques, and legal authorities to identify, locate, investigate, and prosecute perpetrators of serious human rights or humanitarian law violations, including genocide, torture, war crimes, female genital mutilation, and the recruitment or use of child soldiers.

The IHRU routinely coordinates with foreign counterparts on human rights investigations, and participates in numerous interagency and NGO meetings and trainings. The FBI has also partnered with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC), which facilitates a whole-of-government approach to combating human rights violations. The FBI aggressively pursues human rights law enforcement through its role at the HRVWCC, traditional investigative methods in the field, intelligence-driven initiatives, and coordinated efforts with both civil society and domestic and foreign law enforcement partners.

In layman's terms, this FBI unit helps to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for human rights abusers. It also investigates situations in which Americans are either the victims or the perpetrators of atrocities overseas, communicates with diaspora communities to help identify perpetrators, and assist other U.S government agencies and international bodies in their efforts to track down such individuals. 

How this all plays out in the real world shows just how effective this small, nine agent team has been. In 2015, the FBI reported that the U.S. government was pursuing a whopping 1,900+ leads and cases on such individuals, with the FBI's IHRU playing a critical role in those efforts. More recently, a former Liberian warlord who had slipped into the United States was sentenced to 30 years in prison and the Trump administration deported a Nazi war criminal who was discovered in the U.S.

Simply put, this FBI unit should not be disbanded. Their work is a critical component of U.S. and global security, and supporting their efforts is the morally right thing to do. 

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The people of Sudan are overcoming two of the greatest challenges facing humanity today: war and genocide. Operation Broken Silence is accelerating their ability to generate lasting change by funding storytelling and movement-building, education and emergency response, and grassroots advocacy programs. Here are a few ways you can join us:

1. Call Your Representative and Senators. We run grassroots advocacy campaigns concerning U.S.-Sudan policy and other important issues related to our work, just like this one. You can complete and send the following message to your Representative and your Senators calling on them to support the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit:

Hello, my name is (insert name) and I live at (insert full address). I am writing today to ask (insert Representative or Senator name) to support the FBI's International Human Rights Unit (IHRU). This critical team of agents contributes to our national security in a variety of ways, including by helping to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for human rights abusers. It also investigates situations in which Americans are either the victims or the perpetrators of atrocities overseas, communicates with diaspora communities to help identify perpetrators, and assists other U.S government agencies and international bodies in their efforts to track down such individuals. 

Recent reports suggest that the Trump Administration is shutting down the IHRU and their important work. At a time when human rights abusers are increasingly active in Sudan, Myanmar, Syria, and elsewhere in the world, it is clear that the small team of federal agents at the IHRU have important work ahead of them that helps to keep Americans safe. I ask that you directly voice concern to the Trump Administration over its closing down of the IHRU and that you take immediate action to protect their work. 

Not sure who your Representative and Senators are or need their contact info? Find your Representative here and your Senator here.

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