WCRO 2022 Annual Update

For over 25 years, the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) has served as a critical resource for tribunals and organizations dedicated to combating impunity for atrocity crimes and offered students unparalleled opportunities to engage in projects that advance accountability for these crimes. While the sites of international justice work have varied over the years - from international and hybrid tribunals to domestic courts to investigative mechanisms - the WCRO has responded flexibly to continuing demands for accountability, adapting its projects and priorities to the changing needs in the field, while maintaining a strong focus on areas in which we have developed significant expertise, such as the prosecution of conflict-based sexual and gender violence. 

ICC Ongwen Case
The judges of the ICC Appeals Chamber during the delivery of the appeals judgments on the conviction and sentence in the Ongwen case on 15 December 2022 ©ICC-CPI

Although justice is often a long-term project, we close out the year with a win in the fight against impunity for gender-based crimes. On December 15, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its judgment in the case of Prosecutor v. Ongwen, upholding its historic conviction of forced pregnancy as a war crime and a crime against humanity. Among other things, the Court agreed with the analysis in an amicus curiae brief submitted in late 2021 by WCRO Director Susana SáCouto in partnership with five other experts on gender and international criminal law that forced pregnancy is a form of reproductive violence and an attack on reproductive integrity. The Chamber made clear that the inclusion of the crime of forced pregnancy in the Rome Statute was intended "to protect a woman's reproductive rights, including the right to be pregnant and to autonomously determine the way in which she carries out her pregnancy." We thank you for your support of our efforts to advance the cause of justice for victims of gender-based crimes.

Throughout 2022, the WCRO has continued to promote accountability for gender-based atrocity crimes through a variety of advocacy, education, training, and research initiatives.

Documenting Good Practice on Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: the Sepur Zarco Case

For instance, the WCRO joined UN Women and WCL’s Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law to memorialize the lessons learned from a landmark verdict in which a Guatemalan court convicted two former military members of sexual violence, sexual slavery, and domestic slavery committed against Maya Q’eqchi women in and near a military rest outpost in Sepur Zarco during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. This was one of the first convictions of former military members for acts of sexual violence against women committed in the context of the country’s armed conflict, and one of the first instances of a domestic court anywhere prosecuting – through the application of national and international laws – sexual slavery in the context of armed conflict as an international crime. The report, entitled Documenting Good Practice on Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: the Sepur Zarco Case, is available in English, with a Spanish translation and a Q’eqchi Summary.

WCRO Director Susana SáCouto also participated in various programs designed to enhance documentation, investigation, and prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence, including:

Susana SaCouto at REG Conference
  • As an expert and panelist at the IV Plenary Meeting of the Specialized Gender Network (REG) of the Ibero-American Association of Public Prosecutors, convened to discuss the development of a regional protocol on sexual violence.
  • As an expert in a training program organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and the Democracy Development Center-Ukraine aimed at filling the gap in accompaniment and support mechanisms for victims and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and other war crimes against women in Ukraine.

More generally, the WCRO continued to advance education and scholarship in the field of international criminal law. For instance, WCRO Director Susana SáCouto:

  • Published on critical issues of accountability, including:

    Gender and International Criminal Law
    •  A book on Gender and International Criminal Law (Oxford University Press), co-edited with Valerie Oosterveld and Indira Rosenthal

      The book - which received the American Society of International Law (ASIL) Women in International Law Interest Group (WILIG) Scholarship Prize for Best Book - provides an in-depth examination of how gender is perceived and analyzed in international criminal law, identifies key gaps in the understanding of gender within international criminal law, and offers recommendations for how gender, including sexual violence and other gender-based crimes, can be more meaningfully addressed by international courts and tribunals.
  • Participated in a number of events on current issues in ICL, including:

    Susana SaCouto on USIP panel
    • A panel organized by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) entitled Justice and Accountability for Khmer Rouge Atrocities: Perspectives from the United States and Cambodia
    • A panel on Aggressive War – State vs. Individual Responsibility at the 2022 Annual International and Comparative Law Symposium hosted by the Maryland Journal of International Law and UM Carey’s International and Comparative Law Program
      Assessing International Justice
    • A panel on Assessing International Justice: Ukraine and Beyond organized by the War Crimes Research Office in partnership with AU International Law Review as part of the International Legal Studies Program’s 40th Anniversary Celebrations, which featured video remarks by Karim A. A. Khan KC (Prosecutor of the ICC), followed by remarks by Judge Ivana Hrdlicková (President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon), Diane Orentlicher (Professor of Law, AUWCL), Christian De Vos (Director of Research and Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights)
      Women and International Law conference at the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law
    • A panel hosted by the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights hosts the U.S. book launch for the newly released bood, Gender and International Criminal Law, co-edited by WCRO Director Susana SáCouto, Indira Rosenthal, and Valerie Oosterveld 
      Women and International Law conference at the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law
    • A conference convened by the co-editors of the forthcoming Oxford University Press (OUP) publication on Women and International Law at the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law
Panel on Comparative Experiences in Cases of Sexual and Gender Violence in the Latam Region

Through its War Crimes Speaker Series, the WCRO featured conversations about justice efforts in Ukraine and beyond, including:

  • A panel, organized with the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and ReLeG, on Comparative Experiences in Cases of Sexual and Gender Violence in the Latam Region: From the Integration of the Gender Approach to the Implementation

    Crimes of Aggression, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes in Ukraine
  • A panel, organized with WCL's International and Comparative Legal Studies Program, on Crimes of Aggression, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes in Ukraine, which included Todd Buchwald (former Ambassador and Special Coordinator for Global Criminal Justice at the US Department of State), Christian De Vos (Director of Research and Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights), Professor Rebecca Hamilton, and Professor Diane Orentlicher. Watch the full recording.

  • Luz Marina Monzón Cifuentes

    A conversation with Luz Marina Monzón Cifuentes, Director General of the Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Dadas por Desaparecidas (UBPD) of Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

    Women in human mobility and gender violence: cases and comparative experiences in the region
  • A panel, organized with the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and ReLeG, on Women in human mobility and gender violence: cases and comparative experiences in the region.

    Women, Life Freedom: What Does Iran's New Revolution Tell us about Women and the Future of Iran?
  • A panel, organized with the International and Comparative Legal Studies Program and the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, on Women, Life Freedom: What Does Iran's New Revolution Tell us about Women and the Future of Iran?

Throughout the year, the WCRO offered students unique opportunities to learn about and engage in projects promoting accountability for atrocity crimes, and helped students build essential legal and advocacy skills and establish connections critical to practicing in the fields of international criminal law and international justice, including:

  • The 16th Annual Summer Law Program in The Hague, which provides students from WCL and other U.S. law schools an opportunity to learn about international criminal law and counterterrorism issues among the practitioners, courts, and tribunals that are making history today.

    Benjamin Ferencz

    During the program, students heard from Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor who prosecuted the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of the 12 Nuremberg Trials held by the U.S. authorities after WWII in Nuremberg, Germany. He urged Hague Summer Program students to take up his work in opposing war-making and investing in law and peace, and to “never give up”!

  • Opportunities to engage in and support the WCRO's confidential and public research projects and programming through research assistant positions, the International Criminal Law Practicum, and Independent Studies: Fifteen students supported the WCRO's confidential and public research projects and programming. 

  • Moot Court

    ICL Moot Court Competitions: Michelina Partipilo, Isabella Zink, and Maria Pantanoaccompanied by researcher Karine Ghazaryan were selected and coached by the WCRO to represent WCL in 2022 Regional Round for the Americas and Caribbean of the International Criminal Court Moot Court Competition. Competing against 14 other teams, the WCL team finished as semi-finalists and Isabella Zink received Best Defense Advocate in the Preliminary Rounds. 

  • Volunteer Opportunities: More than 30 students and alumni volunteered on WCRO projects, including writing posts on news and jurisprudential developments coming out of international and other tribunals tasked with trying grave crimes for the International Criminal Law Updates blog.

Natalie Coburn

WCRO Staff, Alumni Council and Advisory Board Updates:

We are excited to announce that Natalie Coburn joined the WCRO as Assistant Director this spring. 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.

We are also thrilled to share some updates and impressive achievements of WCRO’s Alumni Advisory Council and Advisory Board including:

Justice Goldstone
  • WCRO Advisory Board Member Justice Richard Goldstone received the 2022 Life Achievement Award from the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA)

    Peter Chapman
  • Peter Chapman (JD & MA '09) joined the Alumni Advisory Council. Peter serves as Associate Director with Article One Advisors, a specialized strategy and management consultancy with expertise in human rights, responsible innovation, and social impact. He has previously worked as an attorney, governance advisor and human rights expert. 

    Vy Nguyen
  • In August, WCRO Alumni Advisory Council Member Vy Nguyen (JD '15) received the ABA Outstanding Young Military Lawyer Award

    Christie Edwards
  • WCRO Alumni Advisory Council member Christie Edwards (LL.M. '10) was recently appointed as the new Head of Policy, Programmes, and Legal for Geneva Call (GC), to lead GC's global programs focusing on changing the behavior of armed groups and de facto authorities towards better protection of civilians. She will also develop GC’s policy and legal expertise in humanitarian protection and programmatic capacities for various thematic issues (including SGBV in armed conflict, child protection, healthcare, humanitarian access, IDPs, famine/food insecurity, cultural heritage, etc.).

    Tara Vassefi
  • In February, Chair of the WCRO Alumni Advisory Council Tara Vassefi (JD '16) founded Solidarity Law Cooperative, a community-centered law firm committed to the practice of cooperativism, environmental justice/adaptation, and democratized access to open-source technology and all scientific achievements. Also, in May, Tara began an exciting and unique role at the DC Department of Energy and Environment.

As we close out 2022, please consider joining us in our fight against impunity for atrocity crimes by making a tax-deductible contribution to the WCRO. Justice takes time. Your gift will support our continued work to assist practitioners on the ground, prepare the next generation of lawyers to join the fight for international justice, and enable public debate of critical issues in the field of international criminal law. If you would like to support our efforts to advance justice for atrocity crimes in Latin America, please consider making a contribution to the Fabiola Letelier Fund here.

We thank you for your support and wish you a wonderful holiday season.