Secret lives uncovered: Identifying perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and human rights abuses
Secret lives uncovered:
Identifying perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and human rights abuses

Jose Mardoqueo Ortiz Morales had been living in the U.S. since 1988, until an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations revealed his former membership in a Guatemalan army unit that carried out the 1982 Dos Erres massacre of more than 200 unarmed villagers, including women and children. Ortiz Morales, the fifth participant in the Dos Erres massacre living in the U.S. to be targeted by ICE for enforcement action, pleaded guilty to lying on his naturalization application, was removed by ICE and turned over to Guatemalan authorities in May 2021.

Individuals like Ortiz Morales attempt to evade justice in their home countries by living secret lives in the United States, and concealing their past participation in war crimes and human rights abuses when applying for legal status in the U.S.

Many of these cases come to light after an investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) field offices and the HSI-led Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) located in Washington, D.C.

Cases include Rwandan citizen Beatrice Munyenyezi, who entered the U.S. in March 1998, after making false statements to obtain status, adjusted her status to lawful permanent resident in 2001 and in 2003, became a naturalized U.S. citizen. HSI Boston special agents spent more than six years investigating Munyenyezi, traveling to Rwanda nine times to identify and interview witnesses about her role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which she participated, aided and abetted in the persecution and murder of Tutsi people. In 2010, she was arrested for unlawful procurement of U.S. citizenship, and in April 2021, after serving her sentence in federal prison, ICE removed her and turned her over to Rwandan law enforcement officials.

Over the years, HSI investigations supported by the HRVWCC have uncovered individuals living in the United States who have participated in war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture, extrajudicial killings and various other human rights violations in 95 countries around the world, to include Colombia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Liberia, Peru, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and even Nazi Germany.

Following an investigation by HSI’s Nashville Special Agent in Charge Office in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section, in February 2021 ICE removed Friedrich Karl Berger, who participated in Nazi-sponsored persecution while serving in 1945 as an armed guard of concentration camp prisoners in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system.

The HRVWCC began as a pilot project in April 2008, bringing together a select group of special agents, attorneys, criminal research specialists and historians to work collaboratively on complex and lengthy investigations. The center was formally recognized as a permanent ICE entity in October 2009.

In recent years, the HRVWCC has supported investigations and helped remove individuals who served in military units responsible for the July 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, including Ilija Josipovic, who was prosecuted for using fraudulent documents to hide his past and ultimately removed by ICE in 2017, and Milan Trisic, who was convicted of lying to obtain lawful permanent resident status and removed by ICE in 2019.

The HRVWCC is committed to identifying, investigating, prosecuting and removing human rights abusers and war criminals who enter the United States, and to ensuring that the U.S. does not provide safe haven to anyone attempting to evade justice and hide in the U.S., regardless of the amount of time that has passed or the distance they have traveled.

In addition to criminal cases, the HRVWCC coordinates with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations’ (ERO) National Fugitive Operations Program and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor to locate immigration fugitives with known or suspected participation in human rights violations and war crimes. The most recent operation led to the arrest of 21 in December 2020.

HSI has also committed to participating in the global fight against female genital mutilation. In January 2021, a Texas woman was indicted for transporting a minor to a foreign country for that purpose, following a joint investigation with the FBI. Through Operation Limelight USA, HSI and the HRVWCC partner with the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, non-governmental organizations and others to educate passengers flying to or from countries at high risk for female genital mutilation, offering informational brochures and identifying potential victims and violators.

Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 77,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 343 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.

Since 2003, ICE has removed 1,070 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States, preventing sanctuary for those who have engaged in war crimes, genocide, torture or other serious human rights abuses.

Currently, HSI has more than 170 active criminal investigations into suspected human rights violators and in partnership with ERO and OPLA, ICE is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries.

Related Cases

Accused human rights violator from Ethiopia arrested on charge of fraudulently obtaining US citizenship

Accused human rights violator from Ethiopia arrested on charge of fraudulently obtaining US citizenship

A Georgia man has been arrested on criminal charges related to allegations that he lied during the Naturalization process, including failing to disclose his participation in political persecution during the 1970s Ethiopian Red Terror campaign.

Gambian man indicted on torture charges

Gambian man indicted on torture charges

A Gambian man previously residing in Denver, Colorado, was arrested on torture charges stemming from his actions specifically intended to inflict severe physical pain and suffering on individuals in his custody and control in The Gambia in 2006.


ICE removes Liberian security forces commander

ICE removes Liberian security forces commander

In 2017, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) St. Paul arrested Zinnah for immigration violations and violating the terms of his parole into the U.S. HSI St. Paul’s investigation revealed Zinnah was a member of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel group led by Charles Taylor that engaged in a wide range of human rights abuses including massacres, torture, and kidnapping.

ICE removes suspected human rights violator to Guatemala

ICE removes suspected human rights violator to Guatemala

Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, aka Francisco Cuxun-Alvarado, 64, who had been held in federal custody since his indictment in May 2019, pleaded guilty to one count of illegal reentry into the United States in September 2019, and was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani to six months in prison. Cuxum Alvarado was apprehended as a result of the work of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents and officers with ERO.


Rwandan man sentenced for immigration fraud and perjury in connection with 1994 genocide

Rwandan man sentenced for immigration fraud and perjury in connection with 1994 genocide

On Monday, July 1, 2019, a man who fled Rwanda near the end of the 1994 genocide was sentenced in federal court in Boston for immigration fraud and perjury in connection with his application for benefits in the United States, following an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Boston and ICE's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center with significant assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. State Department and the Revere Police Department.

Liberian warlord 'Jungle Jabbah' receives historic sentence in immigration fraud case

Liberian warlord 'Jungle Jabbah' receives historic sentence in immigration fraud case

A Liberian national was sentenced in federal court Thursday to 30 years in prison for immigration fraud and perjury. The prison term marks the longest sentence for a human rights violator case in the history of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC), which supported the probe. The sentencing also caps an extensive investigation led by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia.


Updated: 09/13/2021