Menu JTA Search

Senate Adopts Anti-genocide Law, Bringing 40-year Crusade to End

The Senate adopted enabling legislation late Friday that will allow the United States to comply with an international treaty outlawing genocide.

The measure was approved by voice vote. President Reagan, who supports the treaty, is expected to sign the bill into law.

The Senate vote was the final step in a process that began 40 years ago when President Harry Truman first proposed the treaty. Since then it has been adopted by 97 countries.

But United States failed to ratify the pact, largely because of opposition from conservatives in Congress, who claimed it might infringe on America’s sovereignty.

The Senate finally approved the treaty in February 1986. The measure passed Friday will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to include penalties for genocide, which it defines as deliberate intent to destroy all or part of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

The treaty was a direct response to the Nazis’ extermination of 6 million European Jews during World War II, which gave the term genocide wide currency.

The maximum penalties for genocide under the amended U.S. code are a $1 million fine and life imprisonment for a killing, and a $1 million fine and 20 years’ imprisonment for attempting to cause physical or mental impairment.

The enabling legislation was blocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee for six months, mainly by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who insisted that the legislation impose the death penalty on those convicted of genocide.

Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.), who crusaded for the treaty daily during his 19 years in the Senate, argued for enabling legislation with life imprisonment.

Thurmond withdrew his demand after committee Democrats agreed to expedite the confirmation of federal judges appointed by Reagan.

NEXT STORY