Bill Making Genocide a Crime Must Clear One Last Hurdle
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Bill Making Genocide a Crime Must Clear One Last Hurdle

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The bill making genocide a crime in the United States, adopted by the Senate Friday night, still has one more congressional hurdle to clear before it can go to President Reagan for signature.

The House must vote on the legislation for a second time, since the Senate made some technical changes in the bill approved by the House last April. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to send the bill to the floor sometime this week.

One change was to name the bill the Proxmire Act, after Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), who is retiring from the Senate this year. Proxmire was the leading advocate for Senate ratification of the United Nations convention outlawing genocide and the current legislation implementing the treaty.

For 19 years until the Senate ratified the convention on Feb. 19, 1986, Proxmire delivered a speech calling for ratification each morning the Senate was in session — more than 3,000 times.

Proxmire was praised by several senators for his efforts in winning ratification of the treaty and adoption of the implementing legislation. He introduced the bill along with Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).

David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, expressed appreciation for Proxmire’s effort, calling the Senate action “a most appropriate retirement gift.”


“This is an historic achievement,” said William Korey, director of international policy research for B’nai B’rith International. Korey has written numerous articles urging ratification of the treaty and adoption of the implementing legislation.

Although some have seen the congressional action as serving more a symbolic than a practical purpose, Korey said that the legislation serves a number of functions, including “ending America’s embarrassment in international forums.”

He said the United States can now “play a more effective role in promoting human rights” and “no longer be challenged as a hypocrite in blowing the whistle on genocide or would-be genocide” such as the Iraqi action against the Kurds.

Korey noted that he wrote his first article on the genocide treaty, called “An Embarrassed America,” for the Saturday Review in 1964.

In it he pointed out that Morris Abram, then a U.S. delegate to the United Nations and now chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was challenged by the Soviets on the U.S. failure to sign the genocide convention, when he pressea them on human rights issues.

The latest delay in congressional approval is the final chapter in the long struggle to have the genocide treaty accepted by the United States. The crusade began on June 16, 1949, when President Harry Truman sent the U.N. convention to the Senate.

Conservatives managed to block ratification for 38 years, and a small group of conservatives fought it to the last minute, despite the support of Reagan.

Reagan also supports the implementing legislation, which makes genocide a crime under the U.S. criminal code, a requirement of the U.N. treaty.


The president worked behind the scenes to snap the impasse in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) said he would only support the legislation if it included the death penalty, a move that might have caused many supporters of the bill to vote against it.

Thurmond’s move was seen as a strategy to get the Democratic-controlled committee to act on confirming judges nominated by Reagan. Democrats held up those confirmations in the hope that if Gov. Michael Dukakis was elected president, he would fill the vacancies with Democrats.

An agreement was reached in the committee and immediately after the implementation bill was approved, the Senate voted to confirm 11 judges.

The implementing legislation imposes a fine of up to $1 million and/or 20 years in prison if the act of genocide results in a death and a fine of up to $500,000 and/or five years in prison for “incitement to genocide.”

Once the president signs the bill, it will be sent to the United Nations, where the United States will become the 100th nation to ratify the treaty.

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