HSI is at the forefront of the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for individuals who commit war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights abuses around the globe. With roots tracing back to the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service, HSI has more than 30 years of experience in successfully identifying and investigating human rights violators who committed atrocities in conflicts overseas and bringing them to justice. When foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights violators are identified within U.S. borders, HSI tirelessly seeks out such individuals and utilizes its broad investigative powers to identify, investigate, prosecute and, whenever possible, remove any such offenders from the United States. HSI is committed to its mission and the role it plays in broader efforts of accountability.
Through its human rights and war crimes investigations, HSI aims to:
- Prevent the admission of known or suspected war criminals, persecutors and human rights violators into the United States.
- Identify, investigate, and prosecute individuals in the United States who have been involved in and/or responsible for the commission of human rights violations across the globe.
- Remove offenders located in the United States.
- Oversee the development of investigative programs in response to the President and the United States’ obligation to prevent mass atrocities and hold accountable those perpetrators responsible for genocide and other gross human rights violations.
Hover over the map for information on the number of human rights violators and war criminals removed by ICE.
Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 480 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders against and physically removed 1,100 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 186 such individuals from the United States.
Currently, HSI has more than 170 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 78,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 350 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.
Human Rights Violators & War Crimes Center
In 2008, HSI created the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). Led by HSI, the HRVWCC leverages the knowledge and expertise of a select group of special agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, criminal research specialists and historians. These experts work collaboratively to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights violations from conflicts around the globe. The HRVWCC is the only U.S. government entity focused entirely on investigating these global atrocities. Learn more about the HRVWCC.
Have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes? Contact the ICE tip line at 1-866-DHS-2423 (1-866-347-2423) or ice.gov/tips. Callers may remain anonymous. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE's confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973.
Human Rights Violators Investigations: Fact Sheet
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. The HRVWCC’s commitment to its No Safe Haven mission and the role it plays in broader accountability efforts are illustrated 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
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 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 800,000 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 15 years 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.
In May 2011, HSI received a tip that Kefelegn Alemu Worku, a prison guard during a period in the late 1970s in Ethiopia known as the “Red Terror,” was living in the Denver, CO area. During the Red Terror, tens of thousands of Ethiopian men, women and children suspected of being members or supporters of the anti-government group, the Dergue, were arrested, tortured and summarily executed. One of Worku’s victims recognized him as the prison guard who had tortured him and fellow prisoners at “Kebele 15,” a notorious prison that housed approximately 1,500 political prisoners. Detainees were also executed at the hands of the prison guards, including Worku. Other witnesses recounted how Worku had personally participated in beating and torturing them at the same prison.
HSI’s investigation resulted in an indictment and subsequent prosecution by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. Following a five-day jury trial, Worku was convicted of one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1425, Procurement of Citizenship or Naturalization Unlawfully; one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1028A, Aggravated Identity Theft; and one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1546, Fraud and Misuse of Immigration Documentation. On May 23, 2014, the District Court judge stripped Worku of his U.S. citizenship and sentenced him to 22 years in prison.
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. On September 11, 2020, the National Criminal Court of Spain convicted Montano and sentenced him to 133 years and three months of prison for his role as an author of the murder of the five Jesuit priests. On February 3, 2021, Spain’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
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 an Immigration Judge subsequently ordered him removed. In November 2019, ERO removed Maric to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian government charged Maric for his criminal conduct; his case is pending.
Two Former El Salvadoran Ministers of Defense Removed for Their Roles in Torture and Extrajudicial Killings
These HRVWCC-supported cases resulted in the removal of two former El Salvadoran Ministers of Defense: General Carlos Vides Casanova in April 2015 and General 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 Vides 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, Vides 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 Vides 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 Óscar 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. In July 2016, just months after García Merino’s removal from the United States, the Constitutional Court in El Salvador annulled a 1993 Amnesty Law, allowing criminal cases to proceed for abuses committed during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran civil war. In September 2016, Judge Jorge Guzmán Urquilla in the department of Morázan reopened a case against former Salvadoran officers, including García Merino, for alleged crimes during the December 1981 El Mozote massacre. In October 2022, Judge María Mercedes Arguello in the department of Chalatenango issued an arrest warrant for García Merino for alleged crimes related to the ambush and killing of four Dutch journalists in March 1982. The criminal cases against García Merino in El Salvador are pending.
The 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 Global Magnitsky Investigative Support Team (GloMag IST), was created in 2018, following the issuance of Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption.” E.O. 13818 builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and targets perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse. The GloMag IST identifies and nominates individuals and/or entities for Global Magnitsky sanctions as part of an inter-agency process that includes the Departments of Treasury, Justice, and State. The team also produces investigative referrals for HSI field offices when there is a potential for criminal, civil or administrative action.
HSI’s first case in which an individual was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act involved Slobodan Tesic, one of the biggest arms and munitions dealers 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.
The Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was the GloMag IST’s first successful designation of an entity engaged in human rights violations. In December 2021, pursuant to E.O. 13818, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the RAB as an entity responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuse. OFAC also designated Benazir Ahmed, among others, as a foreign person who is or has been a leader or official of the RAB. The RAB was founded by the Bangladeshi government in 2004, and is comprised of members of the police, army, navy, air force, and border guards who worked under the RAB from their respective units. NGOs allege that the RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement are responsible for torture and more than 600 disappearances since 2009, and nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018. The HRVWCC’s GloMag IST worked with OFAC and other inter-agency partners to support the designations of Benazir Ahmed and the RAB.
The HRVWCC’s FGM IST works closely with federal, state, and foreign law enforcement partners, as well as child protective officials, non-profit organizations, medical and educational professionals, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) survivors, to protect young girls by investigating cases of 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 Immigration and Nationality Act 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 HRVWCC and HSI launched an FGM/C-related public engagement and outreach program called Operation Limelight USA (OLLUSA) that aims to educate the public about the potential harms and consequences of FGM/C and about U.S. laws governing the practice. OLLUSA uses specially trained teams, comprising HSI special agents and Victim Assistance Program personnel, CBP officers, and NGOs, to initiate informal discussions about U.S. laws with families traveling on flights to or from regions where FGM/C is prevalent and to provide them with educational materials about the harms of the practice. OLLUSA and Center-wide trainings continued despite the global pandemic. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, HSI trained 1,899 individuals, to include government as well as NGO personnel, on FGM/C. In FY 2023, the Center plans to expand OLLUSA to 19 airports in the United States.