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Human Rights Violators Investigations

July 3, 2019

Human rights violators include those who have participated in war crimes, acts of genocide, torture, extrajudicial killing, recruitment of child soldiers, violations of religious freedom, and other acts of persecution.  These perpetrators frequently seek to evade justice abroad by applying for immigration benefits in the United States. They often assume fraudulent identities and/or make false statements to enter the United States, then blend into communities, in essence, hiding in plain sight.  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) places a high priority on targeting these serious offenders through its Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). The HRVWCC illustrates its commitment to its mission and the role it plays in broader accountability efforts through various cases from around the globe.  Recent success stories of the HRVWCC's efforts to target human rights violators include the following: 

Significant Success Stories

Nazi War Criminal Removed to Germany

While most of the HRVWCC's work focuses on modern-day war crimes, we still partner with the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions (HRSP) Section to pursue the remaining World War II Nazi leads developed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). For example, ICE cooperated closely with its DOJ and Department of State (DoS) partners in August 2018 to remove Jakiw Palij to Germany. In August 2003, Palij's U.S. citizenship was revoked by a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York. In November 2003, Palij was placed in removal proceedings, charged with 237(a)(4)(D) Nazi Persecution or Genocide.  Palij is a former Nazi labor camp guard at the Schutzstaffel (SS) Trawniki Training Camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Liberian General Sentenced to 30 Years

Mohammed Jabbateh, also known as "Jungle Jabbah," served as a general in the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), a rebel group that battled for control of Liberia in the 1990s during the first Liberian civil war. ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents from Philadelphia, the HRVWCC's Africa intel analyst and members of the United States Attorney's Office (USAO) for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania traveled to Liberia to interview over 30 eyewitnesses. These eyewitnesses provided firsthand accounts of torture, rape, cannibalism, and murder committed by Jabbateh and his band of soldiers.

On October 18, 2017, a jury found Jabbateh guilty of two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1546—Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Related Documents, and False Personation and two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1621—Perjury.  

On April 19, 2018, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sentenced Jabbateh to 30 years incarceration, well above the sentencing guidelines and the longest thus far for immigration fraud committed by a human rights violator. HSI and HRSP's efforts to amend sentencing guidelines made this sentencing possible.

Rwandan Genocidaire Convicted of Immigration Violations and Stripped of His United States Citizenship

In March 2011, HSI received information from the Rwandan government and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that Gervais "Ken" Ngombwa, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in the United States, led massacres in the Nyamata area of Rwanda during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The politicization of ethnic identity throughout Rwandan history led some within the dominant Hutu ethnic group to attempt extermination of the minority Tutsi population.  During the genocide, Hutu extremists raped and murdered between eight-hundred-thousand to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.  Ngombwa led massacres in Nyamata including the murder of an estimated 10,000 men, women, and children attempting to seek refuge at the church and commune office. A majority of those killed had sought refuge inside the church walls where they were slaughtered with guns, machetes, and other weapons.

Following a multi-year investigation, the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa successfully prosecuted Ngombwa, convicting him of one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1425—Procurement of Citizenship or Naturalization Unlawfully; one count of violating  18 U.S.C. § 371—Conspiracy to Defraud the United States; and one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001—False Statements, Concealment (i.e., making a materially false statement to agents of the Department of Homeland Security).  Ngombwa's U.S. citizenship was revoked because of the convictions.

In March 2017, Ngombwa was sentenced to a 15-year incarceration. This case succeeded due to the cooperation between the HRVWCC; HSI Cedar Rapids; HSI Pretoria, South Africa, the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa, DOJ's Office of International Affairs, the Department of State, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

El Salvador's Former Vice Minister for Public Security Criminally Convicted and Extradited to Spain

Inocente Orlando Montano, who served in several command positions in the military and government and ultimately as El Salvador's Vice Minister for Public Security during the country's 1980-1992 civil war, was part of the small, core group of elite officers responsible for the 1989 murder of six Spanish Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and their housekeeper's teenage daughter in San Salvador.  With the aid of an expert witness and the HRVWCC's historian for the Americas, an investigation led by HSI Boston and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts resulted in Montano's conviction on three counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1546— Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Related Documents, and False Personation (i.e., immigration fraud), and three counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1621—Perjury. 

The trial documented over 1,150 human rights violations committed by units or troops under Montano's command, including 65 extrajudicial killings, 51 disappearances, and 520 cases of torture.  In August 2013, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts sentenced Montano to 21-months incarceration and issued a judicial order of removal to El Salvador. Montano's imprisonment afforded Spain sufficient time to perfect an extradition request for the crime of terrorist murder for the 1989 murders of five Spanish Jesuit priests during the 10-year Salvadoran civil conflict—a significant move given that El Salvador had previously refused to comply with Spanish arrest warrants for other defendants living in El Salvador.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Montano's appeal. The U.S. Secretary of State certified Montano's extradition to Spain in November 2017.  HSI's investigation and the subsequent criminal conviction proved instrumental in ensuring that Montano faced justice in Spain as opposed to enjoying impunity in El Salvador. The Spanish Prosecutor's Office of the National Court has requested 150 years in prison for Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano for his participation in the November 1989 murder in El Salvador of the rector of the Central American University (UCA), the Basque Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuría, and five other priests belonging to this religious order, four of them Spanish. With the six Jesuits were also executed the wife and 15- year old daughter of the guardian of the university.

Former Member of Ethnic Serbian Forces in Croatia Pleads Guilty to Failing to Disclose His Role in Ethnically Motivated Murders

Slobodan Mutic, a former member of the breakaway ethnic Serb forces in Croatia, allegedly murdered two Croatian citizens in the town of Petrinja, Croatia, in January 1992. The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center's (HRVWCC) Balkan historian performed substantial historical research and located numerous wartime and postwar records in present-day Croatia, which substantiated Mutic's alleged crimes.  The HRVWCC worked with HSI Cleveland and its DOJ partners at the United States Attorney's Office in Cleveland, Ohio to indict the case. As a result, Mutic pleaded guilty to one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (immigration fraud) for failing to disclose his role in the ethnically motivated murders; he was subsequently sentenced to a 2-year incarceration.  ICE coordinated with Croatian officials to return Mutic to Croatia, where he is presently being tried for his wartime acts.

Former Member of the Bosnian Army is Stripped of his United States Citizenship and Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

Slobo Maric, a former member of the Bosnian army, served as a shift leader of a detention facility in Bosnia, which housed captured Bosnian Croat soldiers. He selected detainees for other guards to abuse, directly participated in abusing several prisoners, and sent prisoners to dangerous and deadly work details on the conflict's front lines. The case was investigated by HSI Jacksonville and the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center; it was prosecuted by the Department of Justice's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida. In March 2017, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida sentenced Maric to 18-months incarceration for unlawfully procuring, or attempting to procure, naturalization or citizenship in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425.  These charges were the result of his failure to disclose to United States immigration officials the fact of his membership in the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and crimes that he committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war in the 1990s.  The Court immediately revoked Maric's United States citizenship, and he is now in immigration removal proceedings.  The Bosnian government has charged Maric for his criminal conduct.

Two Former El Salvadoran Ministers of Defense Removed for Their Roles in Torture and Extrajudicial Killings

The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC)-supported cases resulted in the removal of two former El Salvadoran Ministers of Defense: Carlos Vides Casanova in April 2015 and José Guillermo Garcia Merino in January 2016. Both were removed on grounds that they had "assisted or otherwise participated" in multiple instances of torture and extrajudicial killing in El Salvador during the 1980s.  These cases relied on the testimonies of torture survivors as well as the statements of an expert witness and a former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. The case against Casanova resulted in a published decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), concluding that in his role as a commander during the civil war in El Salvador, Casanova assisted or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings and torture. The decision specifically named two Salvadoran torture survivors, who testified in court, as well as nine victims of extrajudicial killing, six of whom were U.S. citizens.  The victims included four churchwomen—Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—who were slain in December 1980, as well as Michael Hammer and Mark Pearlman, who were killed together with a Salvadoran colleague in January 1981. The decision also found Casanova removable for his role in the torture and extrajudicial killing of "countless unnamed" civilians.  

The Garcia Merino case held that he knew or should have known about the extrajudicial killings and tortures, under the theory of command responsibility, and that he fostered an institutional atmosphere in which defenseless civilians were victimized. The court ruled, among other findings, that through Garcia Merino's acts and omissions, especially in failing to properly investigate and hold perpetrators accountable, he had "assisted or otherwise participated" in the extrajudicial killings of Archbishop Oscar Romero as well as approximately 1,000 civilians—many of whom were children—at the El Mozote massacre, and the six U.S. citizens described above.

Non-Government Organizations Help to Build the Middle East and Asia Portfolio

The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center's (HRVWCC) Middle East and Asia Regional Support Team is working closely with several non-government organizations both overseas and in the United States to identify perpetrators from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other countries in these regions where civil wars, genocide and gross human rights abuses have occurred in the past several decades and are ongoing in many locations.  These relationships are proving fruitful for both the identification of targets residing in the United States and a vast number of individuals added to DHS databases for screening and visa denial recommendations.

The HRVWCC's First Global Magnitsky Sanctioned Target

Created in 2018, the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center's (HRVWCC) Global Magnitsky (GloMag) Regional Support Team leverages agency enforcement powers pertaining to illicit trade and money laundering activities to identify foreign persons responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, or who have committed acts of corruption. Once identified, the GloMag team works with our colleagues at the Departments of Treasury, Justice, and State to identify individuals and entities upon whom the President may impose sanctions.

HSI's first individual to be sanctioned under the GloMag Human Rights Accountability Act was Slobodan Tesic, one of the biggest dealers of arms and munitions in the Balkans.  Tesic provided bribes and financial assistance to officials to secure arms contracts and spent nearly a decade on the United Nations (UN) Travel Ban List for violating UN sanctions against arms exports to Liberia.

Female Genital Mutilation Prevention Successes

The Center's FGM response team works closely with federal, state, and foreign law enforcement partners, as well as child protective officials, non-profit organizations, medical and educational professionals, and survivors, to protect young girls by investigating cases of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and conducting outreach and training to end the practice.  FGM/C is a serious human rights abuse, a form of gender-based violence, and, when done to children, a serious form of child abuse.  ICE HSI and the FBI jointly investigate violations of the federal criminal FGM statute, 18 U.S.C. § 116.

In addition to utilizing our authorities to investigate cases of FGM/C, ICE HSI and ICE OPLA also use the provisions of the INA to prevent and deter FGM/C when possible. In at least two instances, FGM/C was prevented after parents suspected of trying to send their daughters overseas for FGM/C were interviewed by ICE HSI and FBI and notified about U.S. laws and the potential consequences of subjecting their daughters to this form of child abuse.

In 2017, the Center and HSI New York launched an FGM/C-related outreach program called Operation Limelight USA. Operation Limelight USA aims to safeguard and prevent young girls from being subjected to FGM/C by educating airline passengers about the potential harms of FGM/C and United States laws governing the practice. The Operation utilizes specially-trained teams, consisting of ICE HSI special agents, CBP officers, and NGOs, to initiate informal discussions about United States laws with families traveling to or from regions where FGM/C is prevalent and to provide them with educational materials about the harms of the practice.  Over the summer of 2019, the Center plans to expand Operation Limelight USA to 14 airports around the United States.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/03/2019