1 of 3 | Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Iii., speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 6. He announced a new bill that would expand U.S. war crime jurisdictions. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 23 (UPI) -- A bill that would expand the United States' ability to prosecute global war crimes heads to President Joe Biden's desk after being approved by the Senate on Thursday.
The passage of the bill, called the Justice for Victims of the War Crimes Act, comes a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave an impassioned speech to a joint session of Congress about the invasion of the country by Russia.
The proposed law passed with bipartisan support allows U.S. courts to prosecute suspected war crimes regardless of if the suspects or victims are citizens of the United States and whether the alleged crimes happened in the country.
"By passing this vital legislation, we are sending a clear message to Vladimir Putin: perpetrators committing unspeakable war crimes, such as those unfolding before our very eyes in Ukraine, must be held to account," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a joint statement with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"We have the power and responsibility to ensure that the United States will not be a safe haven by the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Our bill will address an egregious gap in our laws to ensure that war criminals who come to the United States can be prosecuted for their crimes."
Current U.S. law allows for the prosecution of people who commit war crimes in the United States or abroad, but only if the victim or perpetrator is a U.S. national or servicemember.
"I'm glad Congress has passed our bill that makes good on the commitments the United States made when we signed the 1949 Geneva Conventions," Grassley said in the statement. "The [United States] is not, and will never be, a safe haven for war criminals. Russia's unprovoked and immoral invasion of Ukraine shines a light on the need for this legislation."
The International Criminal Court has started an investigation into alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine in February and has continued its assault on the country despite pushback by Kyiv forces.