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Human Rights Violators & War Crimes Unit


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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operates the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) within the National Security Investigations Division (NSID). Preceded by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, HSI has more than 30 years of experience in successfully investigating human rights violators. The unit conducts investigations focused on human rights violations in an effort to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven to those individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights abuses from conflicts around the globe. When foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers are identified within U.S. borders, the unit utilizes its powers and authorities to the fullest extent of the law to investigate, prosecute and, whenever possible, remove any such offenders from the United States.

Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 460 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 1,057 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States.  Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 167 such individuals from the United States.

Currently, HSI has more than 165 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,640 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 76,500 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 325 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.


The unit has four important missions:

  1. To prevent the admission of foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers into the United States.
  2. To identify and prosecute individuals who have been involved and/or responsible for the commission of human rights abuses across the globe.
  3. To remove, whenever possible, those offenders who are located in the United States.
  4. To oversee the development of programs in response to the former President's Presidential Study Directive-10, the prevention of mass atrocities.

Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center

The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) began as a pilot project in April 2008 to further increase the efficiency of these complex investigative and litigation actions. The center leverages the knowledge and expertise of a select group of special agents, attorneys, intelligence specialists, criminal research specialists and historians who are collectively collocated. The center also brings together various DHS components and other departmental agencies, to include the FBI and the Department of Justice to work collaboratively on human rights violators and war crimes investigations. With bona fide successes supporting this crucial concept, former ICE Director John Morton established the center as a permanent ICE entity in October 2009.

The No Safe Haven Initiative

The United States grants admission to more refugees and asylum seekers annually than any other nation. Individuals fleeing wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing and various other forms of persecution have often view the United States as a safe haven. Upon entry, the vast majority of these people choose to remain here permanently and, ultimately, gain citizenship through the naturalization process.

Unfortunately, individuals who have perpetrated significant abuses against others in their home countries seek entry to evade prosecution and punishment. Frequently, these individuals hide among those they once persecuted, falsely claiming to be victims of abuse. They may be former officials of regimes that are or were potentially hostile to our nation and its interests, making them not only human-rights violators, but also national security threats.  HSI's No Safe Haven Initiative targets these individuals.

Those accused of human rights violations cannot escape justice by hiding in the United States. HSI is committed to keeping the nation safe by ensuring the secure removal of aliens with known ties to human rights violations.

The Center operates four Regional Support Teams (RST) to identify, locate, investigate, prosecute and assist in removing human rights violators, torturers and war criminals from the United States.  These RST’s are considered the backbone of the center and are geographically oriented covering Latin America, Africa, Europe/Balkans, and Asia/Middle East.  Each team consists of program managers/special agents, analytical/historical personnel and legal advisors. RSTs provide programmatic oversight over the field where the actual human rights investigations take place by leveraging all relevant agency expertise to support investigation and litigation activities within the designated target region.

Human Rights Target Tracking Initiative

HSI also works to prevent known human rights abusers from gaining entry into the United States. HSI intelligence and criminal research specialists work with their national and international counterparts in a coordinated effort to identify serious foreign human rights abusers and war crimes suspects residing abroad. Since formally undertaking this initiative in June 2008, HSI has been instrumental in preventing more than 139 human rights violators or war crimes suspects from gaining admission to the United States.

When pursuing foreign war criminals or human rights abuser suspects, HSI employs its combined authorities under both U.S. criminal and immigration law to deny human rights violators a safe have in the United States. Some of the existing federal criminal statutes that HSI special agents pursue are:

  • 18 USC § 1091 Genocide
  • 18 USC § 2340A Torture
  • 18 USC § 2442 Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers
  • 18 U.S.C. 2441 War Crimes
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2339(a) Providing material support to terrorists, organizations involved in torture, or the recruitment of child soldiers
  • 18 U.S.C. 116 Female Genital Mutilation
  • 18 USC § 1425 Naturalization Fraud
  • 18 USC § 1546 Visa Fraud
  • 18 USC § 1001 False Statements

HSI is committed to prosecuting any human rights violators who are located within the Unites States. In addition, the United States can exercise jurisdiction over foreign offenses such as torture and genocide. HSI works with its partners at the Department of Justice to prosecute these charges. In instances where HSI cannot exercise such jurisdiction, it pursues criminal charges related to false statements and material misrepresentations made by these offenders on refugee, visa, permanent resident or citizenship applications. HSI also seizes monetary assets linked to an offender's human rights abuses or war crimes. Under U.S. immigration laws, HSI also has the authority to arrest, detain, remove or deport individuals to their respective home countries, so they may face justice before their victims.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/23/2020