Historic international justice meeting at WUSTL

At the 1904 World’s Fair, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organization of national parliaments, met at the Hall of International Congresses to issue its appeal for world peace and to adopt a resolution calling for a second Hague Peace Conference.

This resolution, adopted in what is now known as Ridgley Hall, ultimately led to the 1907 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, one of the most important humanitarian law treaties of the past century.

The IPU also played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and would later contribute to the establishment of the United Nations.

Building on this legacy, a distinguished group of international law experts from around the world will gather at the law school April 12-15 to begin work on a Specialized Convention on Crimes Against Humanity as part of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute’s Crimes Against Humanity Initiative.

Meeting participants will gather at Ridgley Hall to commemorate the link to the historic 1904 meeting.

“The ultimate goal of the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, like the earlier treaties it builds upon, is the protection of civilians from the ravages of war and the commission of atrocities,” said Leila Sadat, J.D., the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and director of the Harris Institute.

This conference is the first major meeting of the two-year initiative spearheaded by the Harris Institute to draft a multilateral treaty condemning and prohibiting crimes against humanity.

The initiative has been funded by a gift from WUSTL alumnus Steven Cash Nickerson.

“The Crimes Against Humanity Initiative is an innovative and important project of the Harris Institute under the dynamic leadership of Leila Sadat,” said Kent Syverud, J.D., dean and the Ethan A.H. Shepley University Professor. “I am grateful to Leila and to Cash Nickerson for making this exciting project happen.”

The project is directed by a steering committee composed of internationally renowned jurists and chaired by Sadat.

The steering committee’s members are: M. Cherif Bassiouni, J.D., professor and president emeritus of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law; Hans Corell, former United Nations undersecretary for legal affairs;

Richard Goldstone, former justice of the South African constitutional court and former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia; Juan Mendez, J.D., president of the International Center for Transitional Justice and former president of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights;

William Schabas, LL.D., professor and director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights of the National University of Ireland at Galway; and Christine Van Den Wyngaert, Ph.D., judge for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and recently elected as a judge to the International Criminal Court.

“Crimes against humanity” was one of the three crimes set out in the charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which tried Nazi war criminals in the wake of World War II.

The project is prompted by a number of developments around the world that suggest that the time is propitious for the development of this new international treaty, including the facts that:

• Broad international support is building for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;

• Members of the U.S. Congress have discussed criminal sanctions for crimes against humanity; and

• A considerable body of jurisprudence has been generated in the last decade by several international criminal tribunals.

In addition to working on a draft of the convention, conference participants will explore the legal, social and enforcement issues surrounding crimes against humanity.

The second meeting of the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative will take place at The Hague in June.

The project will culminate with a global conference, at which the final draft of the multilateral treaty will be discussed and the problem of prevention as well as punishment will be taken up.

Cambridge University Press will publish the papers commissioned by the project, a full draft of the treaty and an accompanying commentary.