January 02, 2008

Case Western Reserve law student to get front row seat for war crimes trial of former Liberian president

Brianne Draffin continues strong work of law school with international tribunals

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Most Americans learned of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in last year's blockbuster movie Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Now, as Taylor's trial for crimes against humanity is set to resume on the small screen, one Case Western Reserve University School of Law student will have a front row seat.

Brianne Draffin, a third-year law student, will depart January 3 for The Hague, Netherlands, to serve as a judicial clerk intern for the globally-televised trial which continues January 7. She'll likely be seated in the court room just below the judges' bench.

Taylor, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 until 2003, will stand before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on the accusations that he conspired with ruthless warlords and rebels in Sierra Leone where who were responsible for widespread atrocities in return for valuable blood diamonds.

For safety purposes, the trial was moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to the International Criminal Court headquarters in The Hague. It opened June 4, 2007 but was postponed in August.

Draffin is among dozens of Case Western Reserve law students who have interned at the five war crimes tribunals: Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court. She's also one of two people with Case Western Reserve ties working on this high profile trial. Ruth Mary Hackler, a former Sierra Leone Tribunal intern, is on the prosecution team trying the case.

Though she was thrust into the spotlight at the last minute, Draffin is quite familiar with the international tribunal process. She was the first intern hired last summer by the newly founded Cambodia Tribunal, is the symposium editor of the law school's Journal of International Law, editor-in-chief of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch e-newsletter and webmaster of the Grotian Moment: International War Crimes Trial Blog on the School of Law's Web site.

"When I received a call in early December from William Roman, senior legal adviser to the judge who is presiding over the Taylor trial, I immediately thought of Brianne," said Michael Scharf, director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center and director of the Cox Center War Crimes Research Office. "She jumped at the opportunity and the tribunal hired her immediately."

Regularly, thousands of law students around the world apply for the prestigious internships, but only a few dozen are chosen a year. Case Western Reserve has been able to place a large number of students because of a close working relationship with the tribunals that dates back to 2002.

"Over the past five years, we have sent eight students to intern at the Sierra Leone Tribunal, and dozens of other Case students have interned at the other international tribunals," said Scharf. "In this particular case, the senior legal adviser to the judge came directly to us for assistance because of the great work our students have done."

Students have produced research memos through their work in the War Crimes Research Lab at the law school that tribunal attorneys review and use in their cases. These memos are often about complicated, hard-to-research issues that require major time and resource dedication.

Last spring, the law school faculty approved a program which offers students a full semester of academic credit for four months working for one of the tribunals. Five students interned at various tribunals in the fall.

Prior to this fall, interns did not receive academic credit and all completed their work during the summer months. However, three graduates turned those internship opportunities into full-time jobs. Hackler, Chris Rassi, who just returned to Thompson Hine after serving as senior legal adviser to the judges of the Rwanda Tribunal, and Andrez Perez, currently a defense counsel before the Rwanda Tribunal, all moved on to integral roles following the completion of their internships.

For more information contact Jason Tirotta, 216.368.6890.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, January 2, 2008 05:10 PM | News Topics: Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Provost Initiatives, Public Policy/Politics

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