By Taylor Ackerman, CGA Class of 2018
NYU’s Center for Global Affairs (CGA) was a cosponsor of the 12th Annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, which took place on the 26th – 28th of August in Chautauqua, New York. The conference hosts the various international and hybrid criminal tribunal prosecutors for 2 1/2 days of lectures on topics of international justice. The theme of this year was “Is the Justice We Seek the Justice They Want? Cultural Approaches to International Justice.” The Dialogs also included prominent academics and NGO officials to speak on the current state of international justice. In addition to Professor Trahan, and myself, CGA students Alejandro Hoyos and Yara Sayegh attended the Dialogs.
NYU CGA Professor Jennifer Trahan delivered a speech at the Dialogs, entitled “Legal Limits to the Veto in the Face of Atrocity Crimes.” After the speech, the Prosecutors in attendance adopted the Eleventh Chautauqua Declaration that “[n]ote[d] with great concern the use of the Security Council veto to block appropriate responses to atrocity crimes and obstruct the efforts to provide justice to victims.” The declaration was signed by former Founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone David M. Crane; former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Prosecutor of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone Brenda Hollis; and on behalf of International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Courts and Tribunals Serge Brammertz.
The first night of the Dialogs included a presentation of the Heintz Award to the Commission of Inquiry on Torture and North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture. The individual recipients of the award Allyson Caison and Christina Cowger gave phenomenal speeches on their work towards justice for victims of torture carried out by the United States. Following the acceptance of the award, Zainab Bengura, the former Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, also delivered a striking and inspiring synopsis of her work and the driving factors behind it.
On August 27th, Dialog attendees had the opportunity to hear from former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice and former prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone Stephen Rapp who delivered the keynote address and gave a stunning overview of the challenges and successes that international justice faces today. Following this address, the prosecutors presented their updates and reflections on their respective institutions during a morning panel. After lunch, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, author of Guantanamo Diary, spoke on his experiences as a torture survivor and former Guantanamo detainee as a result of the United States’ extraordinary rendition program. Following the particularly moving recap of his time in detention and the atrocities he endured, Zainab Bengura, Curt Goering, Hermann von Hebel, Binta Mansaray and Catherine Read discussed victims and international justice on the Ferencz Issues Panel. The panel was followed by an exciting opportunity for students to ask the prosecutors questions. Later in the evening the Katherine B. Fite Lecture was delivered by Catherine Marchi-Uhel, head of the International Impartial Independent Mechanism Investigating Serious Crimes in Syria.
The last day of the Dialogs began with CGA Professor Jennifer Trahan’s speech, which was followed by a presentation by Valerie Oosterveld on the “year in review”. Following these talks, four different sessions took place on the Athenaeum porch, in which experts in the field presented on and discussed various topics in the field of international justice related to victims. Professor Trahan was a panelist on a porch session entitled, “Victim-Driven Approaches to International Criminal Justice,” sponsored by IntLawGrrls. Following the porch sessions, Ishmael Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone” spoke to the room on his experiences as a former child soldier. The Dialogs culminated with the Prosecutors’ issuance of their 11th Chautauqua Declaration on the importance of international justice.
As a CGA alumna, it was an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the greatest thinkers on international justice, hear first-hand accounts of pivotal moments for the rule of law, and ask the prosecutors questions. Moreover, the emphasis on victim’s voices amplified the moral imperative of international humanitarian law and criminal accountability for atrocities.