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New group to focus on international criminal law

This month, Duke law students launched the nation’s first chapter of the International Criminal Court Student Network. The group sponsored a training session last Friday.  

The event, sponsored by the Center for International and Comparative Law, Duke School of Law and Duke Bar Association, featured speakers from the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor. The ICCSN was founded in 2006 at the London School of Economics to serve as a means of communication and education for students around the globe to learn about the ICC, a United Nations judicial organization to which the United States is not yet committed.  

“There is a huge interest among law students in most schools in the field of international criminal law. You can see it at Harvard [University], McGill [University], and now you see it starting at Duke and the students seem to be taking initiative and generating a lot of momentum in the field,” said Noah Weisbord, visiting assistant professor of law who has assisted Duke’s ICCSN chapter in connecting with experts in the field.

Law students and professors filed into a classroom in the Law School Friday for a one-day program that marked the ICCSN’s first event. They attended three consecutive panels to discuss the day-to-day workings of the OTP, a broader overview of the court and opportunities for students to become involved in the field of international criminal justice. Guest speakers were Antonia Pereira de Sousa, an associate cooperation officer within the jurisdiction, complementarity and cooperation division of the OTP and Horejah Bala-Gaye, an assistant trial lawyer for the Prosecution Division of the OTP.  

During her presentation, Bala-Gaye emphasized the importance of universal involvement in the court.

“Everyone’s involvement is necessary to end impunity and prevent further crimes around the world,” she said.

A UN body signed the Rome Statute in 1998 to found the ICC, an international court that could try war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although the United States is not one of the 110 countries currently part of the ICC, its relationship with the court has evolved since the statute went into effect in 2002, said Matthew Smith, second-year law student and president and founder of Duke’s chapter of the ICCSN.

“In the beginning of the Bush administration, it was a relationship of outright opposition because of concerns that are not totally legitimate, that are based on lack of understanding over how the Court actually works. So a big part of our mission with ICCSN is to serve a public education role so there aren’t misconceptions about how the Court works,” he said. “We don’t necessarily endorse or oppose the idea of the U.S. signing onto the Rome Statute. We would like to see the US support the work of court, but the primary goal is [to ensure] that debate about the court’s work is based on correct information rather than politicized information.”

Smith said he decided to found Duke’s ICCSN chapter after meeting Pereira de Sousa at a conference about Darfur held at the Law School last year. She encouraged him to contact ICCSN leaders at LSE and the University of Cambridge, following which he assembled the executive board for Duke’s chapter this Fall, composed of mostly first and second-year law students.

“It’s... an excellent opportunity for these students to lead a movement because the fundamental point is that because the court is a permanent court, it will need confident, committed people from every generation to support its work and we are sort of the next wave of people working for the court,” Smith said.

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