Alumna Geng Is Immersed in International Human Rights Issues as Harris Institute Fellow

Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute Fellow Jing Geng, JD ’11, recently traveled to The Hague, in The Netherlands, to attend the International Criminal Court’s (ICC's) 11th Session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP).

“The ASP is the management oversight and legislative body of the International Criminal Court,” Geng says. “The annual two-week meeting convenes government representatives as well as members of civil society engaged in international criminal justice.”

Geng helped organize a “side event” on behalf of the Harris Institute's Crimes Against Humanity Initiative (CAHI) and attended an important meeting on gender equality. While the main meeting focused on administrative business such as adoption of the budget and the election of key personnel, the side events addressed specific issues before the ICC and the direction that society wants the court to go.

The session on “Preventing and Prosecuting Crimes of Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations” addressed one of ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s highest priorities. “I do believe that states are getting more and more committed to addressing the sexual and gender crimes that take place,” Bensouda told the international news agency Voice of America. “This is what we need to see, to ensure that we address these crimes, because unless we do that, it will always be taken for granted that they should not be addressed.”

In the CAHI side event, Leila Nadya Sadat, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Harris Institute director, gave a presentation on the Harris Institute's work on crimes against humanity. She was joined by CAHI Steering Committee Members Hans Corell, former UN Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs and the Hon. Christine Van den Wyngaert, ICC judge. The audience included other judges, legal advisers, diplomats, and academics, as well as representatives from non-governmental organizations and the ICC.

“This presentation was a crucial step forward in raising global awareness of the need for an international convention on crimes against humanity,” says Geng of the Harris Institute’s more than three-year project to forge an international convention.

Sadat adds: "Jing did a fabulous job as our advance team for the CAHI side event. This is a very high-profile meeting, and we wouldn’t have had the success we had with our event without her talent, energy, dedication, and careful preparation. We feel very fortunate that she chose to be our Harris Institute Fellow this year.”

In addition to the side sessions, Geng observed the elections and the informal negiotiations taking place in the corridors of the World Forum building where the conference was held.“It was thrilling to see multilateral diplomacy in action," she says. "It is clear that Prosecutor Bensouda is committed to the court’s mandate of ending impunity through the consistent and committed support of states and civil society. This is a very exciting time for international justice.”

A graduate of the law school’s Transnational Law Program (TLP) and a former associate editor of the Global Studies Law Review, Geng wrote her master’s thesis at Utrecht University on implementing gender equality and empowering women in Africa.

“I studied how the protections that exist on paper in the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights are being put in place in Africa vis-à-vis women’s rights,” she says. Through the TLP, Geng graduated from Utrecht cum laude, with her LLM in Public International Law in 2012, after earning her JD in 2011 from Washington University.

Geng’s interest in human rights goes back to her high school days, when she was horrified to learn about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

“I was an impressionable teenager, and I remember thinking, ‘This is outrageous; it’s appalling—what can I do?’” she says.

Geng explored the topic further in a research paper on post-conflict national reconciliation in Rwanda as a freshman at Washington University in 2004. She never imagined that less than a decade later she would be meeting Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

“I met him in Chautauqua, New York, at the annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs last August, which the Harris Institute co-sponsors,” she remembers. “It was inspiring.”

Jallow is just one of the many high-profile people she has not only met, but has also worked with as a law student and as a Harris Institute Fellow.

During the summer of her first year in law school, Geng traveled to Accra, Ghana, as part of the Africa Public Interest Law & Conflict Resolution Initiative. There, she worked on anti-human trafficking efforts at the Legal Resources Centre.

“It was a great opportunity to not only read about an issue, but also to work on it in the field,” she says. “I was involved in an international development effort to empower people living in poverty and to build the capacity of low-income individuals.”

Currently, Geng is involved with the daily operation of the Harris Institute and has been supervising the work of the students participating in the ICC Legal Tools Project. She has also been leading sessions sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and working on substantive issues relating to international law and policy.

“I enjoy working in close collaboration with my supervisor—Professor Leila Sadat, the Harris Institute’s director—and Bethel Mandefro, administrative coordinator,” Geng says. “It’s exciting to help plan for the speakers who will close out the 2012–13 Harris Institute’s Speakers Series and the panel discussion on international taxation this spring. I also enjoy working with students who have questions about the TLP, are looking for internships, or who just need someone to talk to.”

Geng adds that she is grateful to the law school and the TLP for the international experiences she has had as a student and now as a fellow.

“I moved to the U.S. from China when I was five, and I’ve always been fascinated by learning about other countries,” she says. “The opportunities I have had to interact with people from other cultures have been an important part of my legal education and professional development.”

Having recently passed the New York and Tennessee bar exams, Geng will clerk for an appellate judge in Memphis, Tennessee after her fellowship ends.

By Timothy J. Fox