PUBLISHED:January 01, 2009

International Criminal Court Student Network takes hold at Duke

DUKE LAW STUDENTS have launched the first chapter of the International Criminal Court Student Network (ICCSN) in the United States. The ICCSN currently has affiliate chapters at the London School of Economics and Cambridge University, among others in the United Kingdom.

The goal of the ICCSN is to facilitate informed discussion about the International Criminal Court and the future of international criminal justice, explained Matthew Smith JD/LLM ’11, president of the Duke Law chapter.

“Because the ICC is an international institution with jurisdiction over crimes committed by the nationals of its member states, it is perceived by some to threaten national sovereignty,” said Smith, who spent his 1L summer working in Geneva for a nonprofit organization focused on ending the practice of torture as a tool of investigation in developing countries. “That perception has led to some false impressions about how the court actually works, what its mission and structure is, what the relationship is between states that are party to the statute and the court, among others. Our goal really is to provide a public educational role. But we do so by engaging critically with the work of the court.

“We want to stimulate debate and discussion about everything the court is doing,” he added. “We want to have debate and discussion about the criticisms that have been voiced about the court as well as the praise it’s been given.”

The group launched its programming on Sept. 11 when two ICC staff members offered a training session on the court’s procedures for investigating and prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The daylong program, which was filled to capacity, also included roundtable discussions with law faculty and guests on the court’s record in its first six years of operation and its future. The event was sponsored by Duke’s Center for International & Comparative Law.

Visiting Assistant Professor Noah Weisbord, a former law clerk to ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, commended Duke Law students for starting the ICCSN chapter and their interest and initiative in matters pertaining to international criminal law more generally. President Barack Obama has indicated his strong interest in bringing U.S. policy in line with international humanitarian law, Weisbord noted, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed regret that the United States is not a party to the ICC.

“The U.S. and the International Criminal Court are having a rapprochement, and so Duke students are on to something,” said Weisbord, who is part of a group investigating the addition of the crime of aggression to those prosecuted by the court. Their engagement with the court can also help to give Duke Law students an edge in pursuing highly competitive ICC clerkships, he observed. “If students are already attuned to what’s going on through their student organization, it is much more interesting to have them working there. There would be a shorter learning curve when they arrive.”