Professor Diane Orentlicher Photo
Professor Diane Orentlicher

A Conversation with Professor Diane Orentlicher

From working in a human rights organization, to the federal government, to an appointment by the United Nations, and of course the Washington College of Law, Professor Diane Orentlicher has a career that has spanned various sectors, geographies, and administrations, providing a breadth and depth of experience that greatly benefits her students and our institution. We recently sat down to discuss her career and current academic pursuits.

What research or scholarly work are you currently working on?

Oxford University Press will soon be publishing my book “Some Kind of Justice: The ICTY’s Impact in Bosnia and Serbia,” which explores the impact of the longest running international criminal tribunal in history in the two countries most affected by its work, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.  This book is in many respects a study of change, showing how the impact of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in these two countries evolved over time.  Some Kind of Justice also explores the factors behind the Tribunal’s changing impact in each country.  To the extent possible, I tried to capture the perspectives of citizens of these countries.

Oxford University Press will also soon publish a Commentary to the UN Set of Principles to Combat Impunity, a “soft law” instrument I helped develop on states’ obligations to combat impunity for serious violations of human rights.  I contributed a Prologue to the Commentary, but leading international scholars and practitioners contributed the actual commentaries to each Principle.

I’m truly honored to be part of the AUWCL faculty, where so many of our colleagues have contributed substantially to the development of global human rights standards.  They have helped make AUWCL a unique and singularly impactful learning environment.

Outside of being a professor at AUWCL, what’s the most interesting position you’ve held?

I’ve been lucky to have many great opportunities.  When I was 22, I worked on death penalty cases in the south with an organization that used creative strategies to keep or get people off of death row in cases that were stacked against them for reasons almost always unrelated to their criminal responsibility.  I loved engaging with local communities and working with an organization that made a crucial difference in people’s lives.

My first job in the human rights field was with an organization now called Human Rights First.  As Deputy Director of the organization and Director of its Human Rights Program, I worked on a lot of fascinating countries during a period when the human rights movement saw impressive gains.  More recently, as Deputy for War Crimes Issues in the State Department during the Obama Administration, I had the privilege of working on issues I cared deeply about in an office that was truly committed to those issues and which had a significant impact on U.S. policy.

What advice do you have for students pursuing a career in international law?

I can’t encourage students enough to take advantage of our Washington, DC location by joining a professional association, attending conferences, or doing an externship at an organization or government office in their field of interest.  Doing so can bolster their chances of being hired for a full-time job down the road, and, in the meantime, help clarify their professional interests—what kind of work they enjoy, and what they may even be passionate about. Many students have described these experiences as vital to building their professional networks and giving momentum and direction to their future careers.

“I’m truly honored to be part of the AUWCL faculty, where so many of our colleagues have contributed substantially to the development of global human rights standards.”

Professor Diane Orentlicher