Harris Institute Kicks Off Landmark Project Focusing on Crimes Against Humanity

Blue-Ribbon Steering Committee Plans International Treaty Draft,
to Convene Experts Roundtable in April 2009

Washington University Law's Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute has announced a two-year project to study the international law regarding crimes against humanity and to draft a multilateral treaty condemning and prohibiting such crimes.

Leila Sadat, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Director of the Harris Institute, recently convened the first meeting of the Steering Committee. “The project’s Steering Committee brings together some of the top jurists, scholars, and practitioners in the area of international criminal law,” Sadat said.

Kent Syverud, dean and the Ethan A.H. Shepley University Professor, said: “The Crimes Against Humanity project is a meaningful and significant contribution to international justice. I am pleased that Washington University and the Harris Institute will continue to take a leading role in the development of international criminal law.”

“Crimes against humanity” was one of the three crimes set out in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which tried Nazi war criminals in the wake of World War II.

The Harris Institute project is prompted by a number of developments around the world, which indicate that the time is propitious for a comprehensive international response to such crimes: The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has broad international support. Members of the United States Congress have discussed criminal sanctions for crimes against humanity. A considerable body of jurisprudence has been generated in the last decade by several international criminal tribunals.

The project begins as the global community prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and will build upon the important work already accomplished with the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

The Steering Committee consists of:

  • Professor Leila Sadat, Washington University School of Law, chair
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  • Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, President of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago
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  • Hans Corell, former United Nations Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs
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  • Justice Richard Goldstone, former Justice of the South African Constitutional Court and former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the Former Yugoslavia
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  • Juan Méndez, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice and former President of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights
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  • Professor William Schabas, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights of the National University of Ireland, Galway
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  • Judge Christine Van Den Wyngaert of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
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In addition to his duties on the Steering Committee, Bassiouni has agreed to chair the Drafting Committee for the treaty.

The Steering Committee will extend invitations to leading scholars and jurists to participate in an April 2009 Experts Roundtable. Participants will present research on specific substantive and procedural aspects of the draft convention. After consideration of the experts’ work, the project will culminate with a Global Conference on crimes against humanity, at which the Draft Convention will be discussed. In attendance at the conference will be academics, representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental groups.

In addition to the text of the treaty, the Harris Institute will publish the working papers presented during the Experts Roundtable and an accompanying commentary to the treaty. 

“This was a productive first meeting for the Steering Committee and an auspicious start for this ambitious program,” Justice Goldstone said. “I am extremely enthusiastic to be a part of the Steering Committee and the Crimes Against Humanity project.”