U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is closing the Foggy Bottom office of the State Department that for two decades worked to hold war criminals accountable, several former U.S. officials told Foreign Policy Monday.
“There’s no mistaking it - this move will be a huge loss for accountability,” said Richard Dicker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program.
According to reports, Tillerson’s staff informed Todd Buchwald, the special coordinator of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, that he is "being reassigned" to a position in the State Department’s office of legal affairs.
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Former President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright established the office in 1997. The head of the office held position of ambassador-at-large for war crimes, which was meant to draw attention to the importance of combatting mass murder in U.S. foreign policy.
Albright's creation of the office came at a time when genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda had highlighted both the grave need to combat mass murder and the U.S. State Department's lack of efficacy in doing so.
Tillerson's move echoes comments he made while addressing State Department employees in May ahead of a major overhaul of the agency. His comments came amid concern that the Trump administration is deemphasizing human rights.
Tillerson said if the U.S. creates conditions for other countries to engage with the U.S., "it really creates obstacles" to the ability to achieve U.S. security and economic interests. But he says it doesn't mean the U.S. doesn't advocate for freedom and other rights.
Tillerson explained Trump's "America First" approach means restoring balance in U.S. relationships with allies. He says over the last two decades, the U.S. "just kind of lost track of how we were doing."
The Associated Press contributed to this report