MAYVILLE- If laws are invented to protect a society from violence and corruption, few are as important as the international humanitarian laws being developed in universities throughout the United States and practiced in federal tribunal courtrooms all over the world.
At Chautauqua Institution today through Tuesday, leaders in the field of developing international humanitarian law - laws that were used to prosecute leaders of the Nazi regime in the Nuremberg trials, for example- and chief prosecutors that participated in humanitarian cases dating as far back as the Nuremberg trials, will be conducting lectures and other seminars that address these issues in the fifth annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, co-sponsored by the Robert H. Jackson Center and Chautauqua Institution.
The events are free and open to the public, and according to Andrew Cayley, chief prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, there are several reasons to consider attending.
"In essence," Cayley said, "in the development of law, crimes against humanity is probably the arena where there's the most development, and it's incredibly important to get these laws developed. ... When you work in this field you realize that we're all basically hanging on by a thread. The difference between a peaceful and prosperous society and the fall into a sort of mass criminality, it doesn't take much."
Cayley's tribunal in Cambodia is trying leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the dominating political force in Cambodia from 1975 until 1979 which is responsible for the deaths of 1.8 million people.
"It was terrible," Cayley said. "There was no war, it was just the government set out against its own people. The plan was to come up with a sort of Utopian place but actually what happened is they starved their own population to death, in about three and a half years. ... My position is that there has to be a way to bring those leaders and others like them to justice. The Cold War really prevented the addressing of these crimes but by 1999, the United Nations helped Cambodia establish a court to try people for being responsible for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. The court was set up by 2006."
Cayley's career in international law began when he joined the British Army in 1991 as a Judge Advocate General. In 1995, Cayley was appointed to serve on the Yugoslavian Crimes Tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the crimes against humanity that were committed during the Yugoslavian Civil War, until 2005.
"I did that for 10 years and it made a profound impression on me," Cayley said. "I realized that these types of crimes, like those that have occurred in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and elsewhere, needed to be seriously addressed to try and create a more humane world where hopefully the conviction and punishment of these crimes would serve as a serious deterrent. We need a very serious message out there today."
Other chief prosecuters that will be presenting over the upcoming three days include H.W. William Caming, United States Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, David M. Crane, Special Court for Sierra Leone, James Arguin, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Daryl Mundis, Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Also in attendance will be some of the leaders in the development of these laws, which according to Cayley, "to a great extent still need to be officially made into law." They include William Schabas, Irish Center for Human Rights, National University of Ireland, Galway, Leila Nadya Sadat, Washington University, St. Louis School of Law and Mike Newton, Vanderbilt University School of Law, among others.
By Chad Gusfafson
Today at 2 p.m., the public is invited to attend a special screening of "The Response"- a 30 minute courtroom drama based on literal transcripts taken from the tribunal cases of Guantanamo Bay- and then stay for a panel discussion with Sig Libowitz, writer and producer of the film, as well as Peter Riegert, one of the film's leading actors and perhaps best known for his role in the college cult classic, "Animal House."
"The inspiration behind this film," Libowitz said, "was that I was fascinated by what was going on in the country post September 11, and I wound up taking a class in national security law at the University of Maryland School of Law. One of the cases we studied was thanks to a very brave judge from Washington, D.C., who was the first person ever to attempt publishing the case transcripts. It was six pages, and the government redacted five."
Just getting to read the one page, however, was more than enough to spark Libowitz' interest, he said.
"What was on the one page completely blew my mind, and all I could think was 'If this is the one page they let go, I can't even imagine what's on the other five," he said. "The lines were completely blacked out but I just thought 'I have to find out."
That led Libowitz to work to gain access to thousands of pages of transcript from the Guantanamo cases, which he succeeded in doing after the Associated Press and the New York Times were able to obtain the information through the Freedom of Information Act.
"A lot of material was considered classified, so it was difficult. I was speaking to attorneys of the detainees and to JAGs who were working on the cases and they would tell me a bit but couldn't share much at all, and I knew the information was out there. Then I found out the AP and the New York Times was a step ahead of me, which worked great."
The film, hailed by the Washington Post as "A tense, tight creation" and Dahlia Lithwick of Newsweek said, "This movie has achieved in 30 minutes what I have attempted to achieve over the last seven years." National Public Radio called the movie "A brilliant production."
"Basically, this is a non-partisan movie that just shows the general public exactly what we did in the Guantanamo cases," Libowitz said. "It asks more questions than gives answers and we want people to really think about this stuff."
A full schedule of this week's events is available online at www.roberthjackson.org.