The Office of Global Criminal Justice advises the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights on issues related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In particular, the Office helps formulate U.S. policy on the prevention of, responses to, and accountability for mass atrocities. To this end, the Office advises U.S. Government and foreign governments on the appropriate use of a wide range of transitional justice mechanisms, including truth and reconciliation commissions, lustrations, and reparations, in addition to judicial processes.
The Office also coordinates U.S. Government positions relating to the international and hybrid courts currently prosecuting persons responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – not only for such crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia – but also in Kenya, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, and elsewhere in the world. The Office works closely with other governments, international institutions, and nongovernmental organizations to establish and assist international and domestic commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions, and tribunals to investigate, document, and prosecute atrocities in every region of the globe. The Office coordinates the deployment of a range of diplomatic, legal, economic, military, and intelligence tools to help expose the truth, judge those responsible, protect and assist victims, enable reconciliation, deter atrocities, and build the rule of law.
The Office provides advice and expertise on transitional justice, including ways to ensure justice and accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, as well as other grave human rights violations. The Office supports U.S. diplomats operating in conflict and post-conflict scenarios by providing subject matter expertise regarding atrocity crimes. It is also the point of contact for international, hybrid, and mixed tribunals exercising jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed around the world. The Office is also responsible for implementing the part of the U.S. Rewards for Justice program that provides rewards to people who provide information leading to the capture and conviction of indicted war criminals. Finally, the Office is represented on the Atrocities Prevention Board, charged with coordinating a whole-of-government approach to strengthen the U.S. Government’s ability to foresee, prevent, and respond to genocide and other mass atrocities.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright created this position in 1997 in order to bring focus in American foreign policy to the twin imperatives of enabling the prevention of, and ensuring accountability for, atrocities around the world. In 1997, President William J. Clinton appointed David Scheffer to serve as the first advisor to the Secretary of State on U.S. policy responses to atrocity crimes.
Scheffer described the importance of this new position in his 2011 memoir:
On the one hand, this initiative marked a sad commentary on the state of the world at the close of the 20th century – 50 years or so after the Holocaust and the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals and two decades after the atrocity crimes that devastated Cambodia during the rule of Pol Pot. On the other hand, my ambassadorship demonstrated that the United States recognized the gravity of the situation and rose to the challenge. No other nation had seen fit to designate anyone as an ambassador to cover atrocity crimes.
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Pierre-Richard Prosper to serve as Ambassador-at-Large to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and, in 2005, he appointed John Clint Williamson to succeed Prosper as Ambassador-at-Large to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.