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Are Human Rights in Retreat?

February 23, 2019 - 10:30am to 11:30am
Zambrano Hall, Cemex Auditorium

David Cohen, Director of the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice
Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School and Faculty Fellow at the Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice

Class Description:
The global reach of existing systems of international criminal justice suggests that the promises made during the Nuremberg era are not mere history. With the establishment of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia, and Lebanon, as well as the permanent International Criminal Court, the international community has undertaken a considerable investment to protect human rights by enforcing international criminal law in conflict and post-conflict situations. And yet, the global commitment to international justice for human rights abuse remains inconsistent, at best, as calls for criminal accountability for the situations in Sri Lanka, South Sudan, and Syria—among others—go unanswered. Meanwhile, around the world we are seeing resurgent nationalist political agendas built on intolerance, authoritarian turns enabling violence to be carried out with impunity, and refugee flows higher than any point since World War II. Are human rights in retreat? What are the prospects for a new generation of human rights advocates who aspire to effect meaningful change in the world? In this session, we consider the challenges as well as the opportunities for human rights advocacy.

David Cohen is a leading expert in the fields of human rights, international law and transitional justice, as well as one of the world's leading social and legal historians of ancient Greece.  Cohen taught at UC Berkeley from 1979-2012 as the Ancker Distinguished Professor for the Humanities, and served as the founding Director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center, which moved to Stanford in 2013 and became the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice. Cohen holds the WSD-HANDA Professorship in Human Rights and International Justice and is appointed in the Classics department at Stanford.

Cohen's research into war crimes tribunals began in the mid-1990's with a project to collect the records of the national war crimes programs conducted in approximately 20 countries in Europe and Asia after WWII. Since 2001, Cohen's work has largely focused on contemporary tribunals and transitional justice initiatives. Cohen has led justice sector reform initiatives and tribunal monitoring programs in Indonesia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Cambodia. At the regional level, Cohen has worked closely with the ASEAN Secretariat and the USAID Technical Facility to the ASEAN Secretariat in forming and leading an expert group to create a Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN. Cohen serves as the Advisor to the Executive Director and the Governing Board of the Resource Center and leads the Center’s research projects. Cohen also directs the Summer Institute in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, a regionally focused summer course held in Southeast Asia every year in partnership with a local institution.

Professor Cohen received his J.D. at UCLA’s School of Law, his Ph.D. in Classics and Ancient History from Cambridge University, and an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Zurich. He has been a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University since 2009.

Beth Van Schaack is the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School where she teaches in the areas of international human rights, international criminal law, and atrocities prevention. She is also a faculty fellow with the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice. Van Schaack’s current scholarship is primarily concerned with thinking rigorously and creatively about how the international community can better design and implement bespoke responses to communities at acute risk of mass violence, full-blown crises like Syria, and situations emerging from episodes of bloodshed.

Outside academia, Van Schaack has served as Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the U.S. Department of State. She continues to serve as a Special Government Expert on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Law. At Stanford, she has also been a Visiting Scholar with the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) of the Freeman Spogli Institute. Prior to her State Department appointment, Van Schaack was professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law, where she taught and wrote in the areas of human rights, transitional justice, international criminal law, public international law, international humanitarian law, and civil procedure.
Van Schaack has also been in private practice, in the areas of commercial law, intellectual property, international law, and human rights. Prior to entering private practice, Van Schaack was Acting Executive Director and Staff Attorney with The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco, and a law clerk with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She continues to advise a number of human rights and international justice organizations.

Van Schaack is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale University Law School.

This event belongs to the following series