Conference examines war crimes, human rights and immigration
Elon's Conference on International Law featured law, history and political science scholars, human rights advocates and practicing attorneys.
Angolan human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais delivered a keynote address titled, "Diamond Extraction and Crimes Against Humanity in Northeast Angola." The February 25 conference took place at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, N.C. The forum was free and open to the public, with more than 120 attendees.
Catherine Dunham, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at Elon University School of Law, provided introductory remarks at the conference. She described the value of bringing Elon scholars, alumni and students who are engaged in the study and practice of international law together with scholars, attorneys and human rights advocates from across the country and world.
"At Elon Law, we are seizing upon every opportunity to engage law students in discussions about the global context of legal and social issues," Dunham said. "The 21st century lawyer must understand the world she works in and the cultural backgrounds of her clients and colleagues. Forums like the International Law Conference allow us to provide this opportunity for our students and to the Greensboro legal community.”
David Crowe, professor of legal history at Elon Law and professor of history at Elon University, organized the conference. He commented on the contributions to the conference made by Elon alumni and faculty.
"I was particularly pleased that six of our presenters were graduates of the School of Law and the College of Arts & Sciences," Crowe said. "This, in league with the fact that four faculty members from both institutions played a key role at the conference, underscores the high level of academic and intellectual quality in the School of Law and the College of Arts & Sciences."
Moderated by Elon Law Professor Helen Grant, the first panel was entitled, “Human Rights and Asylum in Today’s World.” It focused on domestic and international duties of the United States in relation to asylum seekers. Panelist Jessica Yañez, a 2011 Elon Law graduate and attorney at Chapman Law Firm, spoke about domestic violence as a human rights violation and grounds for seeking asylum in the U.S.
“Violence is violence,” said Yañez. “It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is your husband or a stranger on the street, It is still a form of persecution.”
Fellow panelists included, Elon Law Clinical Practitioner in Residence Heather Scavone, who spoke about international and domestic commitments to asylum seekers and legal and moral problems within the domestic system; and Déogratias Niyonzima, a former member of the Executive Committee for the Arusha Peace Agreement for Burundi.
Niyonzima, a Burundi native, spoke about the 1993 genocide in Burundi and his personal experience of political imprisonment and torture.
“Genocide cannot be punished when the political power is pro-genocide,” said Niyonzima. “Genocide is the highest level of human rights abuse. In genocide you find every kind of human suffering.”
Elon University Professor of History and General Studies Amy Johnson moderated the second panel, “Human Rights, Corruption, and Poverty.” Panelists included two Elon University graduates David Fuhr and Jessica Falkner.
Fuhr, an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP in Washington D.C., spoke about the connection between corruption and human rights violations. Falkner, a law student at Stetson University College of Law and former Peace Corp Volunteer, spoke about women’s rights in Moroccan society and recent legal reforms in the “Moudawana,” or Moroccan family code.
The panel also included Tafadzwa Pasipanodya, an associate at Foley Hoag LLP, who spoke about economic and social rights, including the right to food, the right to health and the right to housing. Pasipanodya examined case studies of legal acceptance and rejection of these rights internationally.
Keynote speaker Rafael Marques De Morais, a journalist and human rights activist from Angola, spoke about the corruption and violence within the diamond extraction industry. His presentation, “Diamond Extraction and Crimes Against Humanity in Northeast Angola” examined the question, “How a profitable diamond mining industry in a peaceful country with a fast growing economy becomes subject to so much violence?”
Addressing the history of diamond extraction in Angola, Marques De Morais discussed the country’s failure to comply with the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, a process used to certify that rough diamonds come from conflict-free areas and are not, so called, “blood diamonds.”
“The point I am making is that the government itself does not follow the laws by the books nor do the companies.” Marques De Morais said.
Marques De Morais, who runs the anti-corruption watchdog organization Maka Angola, is in the U.S. as visiting scholar in the African Studies Department at Johns Hopkins University. He said he intends to return to Angola in March of 2012 in order to continue pursuing criminal complaints he filed against the government last year. Marques De Morais said he recently received affidavits for ten victims named in his complaint to appear in court in Luanda, Angola’s capital city, on March 5.
“The burden is on me to find the resources to take people to the capital and lodge them and feed them,” Marques De Morais said, adding that a bus ticket to the capital is around $100 and a difficult expense to pay for many of the victims who come from small villages. He said he plans to use the stipend he earned for speaking at Elon’s conference to help pay for some of the witnesses travel expenses.
One of Marques De Morais’ goals is to “promote a culture of litigation” in Angola, where the legal system is rarely used to combat governmental corruption. He said that in Luanda, the countries largest city, there is only one lawyer and one paralegal.
“Even though I’m not a lawyer, I have read the laws.” he said.
Marques De Morais said he plans to continue using the legal system to fight against human rights violations, despite the safety concerns he faces for openly opposing the government.
“I have the same protection any Angolan citizen has,” Marques De Morais said. “None.”
The panel “War and the Question of Command Responsibility” included presentations by Gary D. Solis, Professional Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School, Michael Bryant, Associate Professor of History at Bryant University, and William Peters, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at SUNY Plattsburg.
The speakers explored the difference between successful and unsuccessful war crime prosecutions.
“What we’re seeing is a clash between military command and civilization of military justice,” explained Bryant.
The panelists also compared different military justice departments throughout the world, pointing out Chile, Peru and Argentina, as examples of countries that do a good job prosecuting their own military commanders. Steven O. Sabol, Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, moderated the panel.
Dion Farganis, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Elon University, moderated the final panel of the conference entitled, “The Global Dimension of War Crimes and Genocide.”
Thomas Porter, Professor of History at North Carolina A&T State University, began the panel exploring his paper “Hitler’s Rassenkampf in the East: The Fate of Soviet POWs.”
“Most Americans are completely unaware of the life lost in the Soviet Union during WWII,” said Porter. “There is quite a difference between Hitler’s war in the West and the war in the East. Hitler believed the Slavic People, as a race, were inferior. Therefore, the struggle against the Soviet Union was part of Hitler’s racial struggle.”
Ryan Ash, a 2011 graduate of Elon Law, presented his article, “Was Srebrenica Genocide?” Ash examined the definition of genocide expressed by courts and international bodies. Ash practices civil and criminal litigation at Blackburn, Conte Schilling & Click in Richmond, Virginia.
Elizabeth Leman, an Elon University graduate, wrapped up the conference with her presentation, “Testing the Law: Sri Lankan War Crimes.” Lemen wrote her honors thesis on international humanitarian law related to Nuremberg, Rwanda and Sri Lanka. Her senior capstone research focused on the importance of the media versus politics in the outbreak of ethnic conflict.
The conference was sponsored by the following schools, departments, programs and organizations of Elon University: School of Law, the College of Arts and Sciences, Phi Beta Kappa, the Departments of History & Geography, Political Science, Black History Month, and the Programs in German Studies, International Studies, Law & Humanities, and Prelaw.
Reporting for this article provided by Danielle Appelman L'12 and Courtney Roller L'13.