Our Mandate

The mandate of the WCRO is to promote the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law, primarily through the provision of specialized legal research assistance in these areas of law to international and internationally-supported criminal courts and tribunals. In the last several years, as the focus on accountability has shifted from the international to domestic level, the WCRO has also provided similar assistance to a number of institutions and organizations involved in holding perpetrators of serious international crimes accountable at the national level. In doing so, the WCRO provides J.D. and LL.M. students the opportunity to undertake legal research and writing on cutting-edge issues in these areas of the law. 

International criminal and humanitarian law are developing more rapidly today than at any other time in history. By assisting these mechanisms, the WCRO hopes to contribute to the coherent development of these bodies of public international law and, specifically, to the elaboration of norms that protect individuals in the course of hostilities. The need for elaboration is particularly acute in the context of internal (non-international) armed conflicts, which, though representing the vast majority of conflicts in the world today, have historically been governed by only the most minimal standards. By helping to develop and fill gaps in this and other areas of international law, the work of the WCRO assists ongoing efforts to promote peace, stability, and human security throughout the world.

Meet Our Staff

Susana SaCouto
 

Susana SáCouto
director

 

Susana SáCouto directs the War Crimes Research Office of the Washington College of Law, which promotes the development and enforcement of international criminal law and international humanitarian law, and the Summer Law Program in The Hague. She is also Professorial Lecturer-in-Residence at the Washington College of Law, where she teaches courses on international criminal law (ICL) and procedure, including an experiential learning course where students work on projects in partnership with tribunals and other organizations dedicated to accountability for atrocity crimes. SáCouto has advised and provided legal assistance on ICL issues to international, regional and domestic courts. Her background prior to joining WCL included extensive practical experience with organizations working on human rights, gender, refugee and international justice issues at both the domestic and international level, including Women Empowered Against Violence, Inc., the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action in Guatemala, and the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. SáCouto has published widely on variety of ICL issues, including a book on Gender and International Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2022) co-edited with Valerie Oosterveld and Indira Rosenthal, which was recently awarded the Best Book prize from the Women in International Law Interest Group of the American Society of International Law. She is co-founder of the Latin American Network for Gender-based Strategic Litigation, an Advisory Council Member of the International Association of Prosecutors’ Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Network, and former co-chair of the American Society for International Law’s Women in International Law Interest Group. She was awarded The Women’s Law Center 22nd Annual Dorothy Beatty Memorial Award for significant contributions to women’s rights and honored as an inaugural member of the Gender Justice Legacy Wall by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice for her contributions to the field of international gender justice. 

NATALIE COBURN
assistant director

 

Natalie Coburn is the Assistant Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO). Prior to joining the WCRO, Natalie served as a staff member and counsel for the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight; as an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; an honors attorney at the US Department of the Treasury's General Counsel's Office; and a law clerk for Fourth Circuit Judge Hon. Diana Gribbon Motz. Natalie was also a Presidential Management Fellow in the US Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and a Fulbright Fellow in Uruguay.


staff assistant

Currently vacant.

 

Officer

Robert K. Goldman
 

professor robert k. goldman
officer/faculty director

 

Robert Kogod Goldman is Professor of Law and Louis C. James Scholar at American University's Washington College of Law, where he has taught since 1971. Professor Goldman is also Faculty Director of the War Crimes Research Office and Co-Director of the Law School's Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. He was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights from 1996 to 2003 and its President from March 1999 to March 2000. In 2004 and 2005 he served as the U.N. Human Rights Commission's Independent Expert on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, and in July 2005 he was appointed as one of eight experts, and the only American, to an International Commission of Jurists’ Eminent Jurists Panel to examine issues of counter-terrorism and human rights. Professor Goldman teaches and publishes on subjects relating to International Law, Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law.

Diane Orentlicher
 

professor Diane Orentlicher
founder/former faculty director

 

Diane Orentlicher is Professor of International Law at American University and has been described by the Washington Diplomat as “one of the world’s leading authorities on human rights law and war crimes tribunals.” She has lectured and published widely on issues of transitional justice, international criminal law, and other areas of public international law. 

Professor Orentlicher has testified before Congress on a range of issues relating to both domestic human rights laws and U.S. foreign policy. Professor Orentlicher served as Deputy for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. Department of State (2009-2011); United Nations Independent Expert on Combating Impunity; and Special Advisor to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

Our History

In 1995, in response to a request for assistance from the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), American University Washington College of Law created the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) with financial support from the Open Society Institute (OSI). Since that time, several new war crimes tribunals have been established under the auspices or with the support of the United Nations, each raising novel legal issues. This, in turn, has generated growing demands for the expert assistance of the WCRO.  As a result, in addition to the ICTY and ICTR, the WCRO has provided in-depth research support to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor (Special Panels) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). In 2006, the WCRO began providing similar assistance to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

With the participation of WCL students and faculty, as well as a variety of other international experts and consultants, the WCRO completed more than 80 major research projects for international courts and tribunals around the world in its first ten years.