Students and faculty of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law have played a central role in the events leading to the international trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, which is set to start on June 4. Taylor will be tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (sitting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague) for his role in the commission of crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, which were portrayed in the Academy Award-nominated film "Blood Diamond" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The School of Law is highly-regarded in the field of international law and the prosecution of war criminals. Shortly after the Special Court for Sierra Leone was established by an agreement between the United Nations and Sierra Leone in 2002, its chief prosecutor, David Crane, contacted Case law professor Michael Scharf requesting assistance. Scharf, a former U.S. State Department official who knew Crane from Crane's days as dean of the Army JAG School, runs the War Crimes Research Office at Case, which provides legal assistance to several international tribunals. Scharf has also provided training to the judges of the Rwanda Tribunal, the Iraqi High Tribunal that recently convicted and executed former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and most recently the Cambodia Tribunal.
At Crane's suggestion, Scharf began to send students to serve as interns at the Tribunal. Because the Tribunal wanted them to spend at least six months in Freetown, Scharf had to convince his faculty colleagues to approve a novel "International Tribunal Externship Program" so that his students could get a semester's worth of credits for the experience. Case was the first law school in the world to establish such a program, and more Case students have interned at the Tribunal than students from any other law school.
Scoring a major coup, a Case alumna is now part of the Taylor prosecution team.
After graduating from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in May 2006, Ruth Mary Hackler joined the Sierra Leone Tribunal as an intern. She was assigned to organize the documents and exhibits for the Taylor trial. Following her internship, Hackler was invited to be one of four international prosecutors trying the case.
Crane and his colleagues in Freetown relied on the Case interns and the students enrolled in the Case War Crimes Research Lab to write lengthy research memoranda on the most difficult legal issues facing the Tribunal. Since then, the Case War Crimes Research Office has produced more than 30 memoranda for the Tribunal, including one that Crane has said "was absolutely critical to proving that the former Liberian president was not protected by the doctrine of Head of State Immunity."
Armed with the Case memo, Crane issued a controversial indictment of Taylor while Taylor was attending a peace negotiation in Ghana in June 2003. Citing the authorities that the Case students supplied, the Tribunal held that Taylor did not have immunity, setting the stage for his eventual arrest and trial.
But, Scharf says, there is much more work to do, and he and Crane are involved in a project to create a new Liberia War Crimes Tribunal.
"Although Charles Taylor is on trial in The Hague, there are a number of his cronies in Liberia that have escaped prosecution," he said. "Our plan is to develop a list of possible suspects and related charges, as well as a proposed statute with procedures and rules of evidence by which to try them."
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