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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press briefing on the United States

19 November 2019

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva 
Date: 19 November 2019
Subject:  United States

United States

We are very concerned by the recent US presidential pardons for three US service members accused of war crimes. These three cases involve serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), both proven and alleged, including the shooting of a group of civilians and execution of a captured member of an armed group.

International Humanitarian Law establishes the obligation to investigate violations and prosecute war crimes. By investigating these allegations, and initiating and completing criminal proceedings, the US military justice system has been complying with these obligations under international law. 

The full pardons in two cases, and the order directing promotion in the third case, run against the letter and the spirit of international law which requires accountability for such violations. The pardon terminating pending criminal proceedings in the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn is particularly troubling, as it cuts short the regular judicial process.

Victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law have the right to a remedy. This right includes equal and effective access to justice, the right to the truth, and to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct, rather than see them absolved of responsibility. 

While pardons exist in international law, and can properly address issues of injustice or unfairness, in the present cases no circumstances have been advanced to suggest anything other than simply voiding the otherwise proper process of law in the cases. These pardons send a disturbing signal to military forces all around the world.


For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / [email protected] or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]
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