ABA Adopts Official Policy on Atrocity Crimes

Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in court in February 2013

Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in court in February 2013 (photo credit)


Last month the American Bar Association‘s House of Delegates unanimously approved a policy developed by the ABA’s International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) on no statutes of limitations for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. The IHRC mentioned what occurred in Haiti, where in 2012 a Haitian judge ruled that Jean Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”), having recently returned to Haiti after fleeing allegations of financial corruption and serious human rights abuses, could not face prosecution for crimes against humanity due to the expiration of  Haiti’s relevant statute of limitations. An ABA policy on this issue, said the IHRC, could have assisted the Haitian judiciary in the proper application of international law in this instance.

The policy systematically makes the case that customary international law now proscribes statutes of limitation for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. It further states that encouraging all countries to adhere to this norm of customary international law will:

  • Minimize the likelihood that the relevant authorities will misapply or disregard this norm;
  • Promote the appropriate understanding of this principle of international law, thereby strengthening its deterrent aspect; and
  • Improve the human rights situation worldwide.

The policy can be found here.