By Evelyn Chuang, JD ’13, Academic Development Coordinator at JDP School of Law, University of Fiji

The opinions or views expressed are not necessarily those of the University of Fiji.

The Crimes Against Humanity Initiative is a project started by Professor Leila Sadat in 2008 to study the need for a treaty on crimes against humanity, to draft a proposed convention, and to promote the adoption of a global treaty. As the 2013–2014 Harris Institute Fellow, I assisted with and attended an experts’ meeting in Geneva, Fulfilling the Dictates of Public Conscience: Moving Forward with a Convention on Crimes Against Humanity. The meeting followed the UN International Law Commission’s (ILC) decision to include the topic on its Long-Term Program of Work in 2013, and served as an important gathering where ILC members and legal experts discussed issues related to a future treaty.

Years later I followed up with the Initiative’s work, but this time in Suva, Fiji, as the Academic Development Coordinator for the JDP School of Law at the University of Fiji. The Dean of the law school, Professor Shaista Shameem, and her team began the Bema Open Forum Series in 2017. Initially, the series consisted of public lectures from professionals within the community. Students and staff members were encouraged to ask questions, voice their opinions, and engage with guest speakers. In Semester 2, 2018, the law school expanded the series to include law-related films, and we decided to show the Initiative’s documentary, Never Again: Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity, as the first Bema movie.

On August 8th, 2018, Never Again attracted roughly fifty students and staff members from the University of Fiji. The film presents the stories of victims of crimes against humanity from several countries, features legal experts such as the International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Professor (and Ambassador) David Scheffer, provides a history of crimes against humanity, and describes the Initiative’s work regarding the lack of a global treaty. A law student led the discussion session, and the audience split into groups to work on questions from the film’s Discussion Guide:

  • If you could ask anyone in Never Again a question, who would you ask and what would you ask them?
  • Who is the one person in the film you most related to, and why?
  • What did you learn from Never Again? What thoughts did it stimulate?
  • Describe a moment or scene in the film that you found particularly disturbing, interesting, or moving. What was it about that scene that made you feel that way?

Everyone seemed eager to discuss these questions within their groups. Some requested more time before presenting their responses to the audience, and their answers were thoughtful and emotional.

The enthusiasm continued. A law student who was unable to attend the Bema event borrowed the DVD. A colleague watched the film multiple times and believes that he learned more with each viewing.

Furthermore, the Dean requested copies of the book, Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity, and we plan on keeping a DVD of Never Again at both campus libraries. At some point, the film may be shown during class, perhaps for the course “Public International Law and Human Rights Law.”

I have followed the Initiative’s progress from St. Louis to Suva. Since my fellowship with the Harris Institute, the Initiative convened the 2016 Asia-Pacific Consultation Meeting in Singapore, produced an educational documentary, and held the Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Workshop on Crimes Against Humanity in Peru on September 28th, 2018.

The Initiative’s decade-long efforts have paid off and continue to supplement the ILC’s work. Notably, the ILC “adopted the entire set of draft articles on crimes against humanity on first reading” in 2017, and “comments and observations” from “Governments, international organizations, and others” are due by December 1st, 2018.

As someone who began her career at WashU Law and finds herself working on another campus in the Pacific, it is truly inspiring to see what a law school institute can accomplish.