May 1, 2024
By Cesar Fernandez, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On April 15th, 2024, UNA-NCA hosted a discussion with Global Criminal Justice Ambassador-at-Large Beth Van Schaack at the Charles Sumner School in Washington, DC. Dr. Beth Van Schaack was sworn in as the U.S. Department of State’s sixth Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) on March 17, 2022. In this role, she advises the Secretary of State and other Department leadership on issues related to the prevention of and response to atrocity crimes, including: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Ambassador Van Schaack served as Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for GCJ from 2012 to 2013. Prior to returning to public service in 2022, Ambassador Van Schaack was the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School, where she taught: international criminal law, human rights, human trafficking, and a policy lab on Legal & Policy Tools for Preventing Atrocities. Ambassador Van Schaack began her academic career at Santa Clara University School of Law, where she served as the Academic Advisor to the United States interagency delegation to the International Criminal Court Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda. Earlier in her career, she was a practicing lawyer at Morrison & Foerster, LLP; the Center for Justice & Accountability, a human rights law firm; and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Ambassador Van Schaack has published numerous articles and papers on international human rights and justice issues, including her 2020 thesis, Imagining Justice for Syria (Oxford University Press). She is a graduate of Stanford (BA), Yale (JD) and Leiden (PhD) Universities.

The evening’s event kicked off with a networking reception among UNA staff and attendees. Shortly after, all attendees gathered to listen to the keynote speech provided by Ambassador Van Schaack herself. Before she spoke, introductory remarks were given by current UNA-NCA Board Chair Jill Christianson. In her remarks, Ms. Christianson provided information on upcoming UNA-NCA events and on the GCJ event itself, giving thanks to the presence of UNA staff and colleagues. Afterward, Ms. Christianson introduced guest speaker Ambassador Van Schaack, discussing her past professional and academic experiences, along with her current position for GCJ at the State Department. Ambassador Van Schaack then took the stage, beginning with introductory remarks and a thank you to everyone who attended the event. She then shifted toward the topic of global criminal justice, specifically looking at the ongoing issues of violence and human rights atrocities in Ukraine’s war with Russia. In her keynote speech, she focused on accountability and atrocity prevention within Ukraine, highlighting her five primary pathways to restorative justice within the GCJ framework. Pathway One is a massive project that the State Department is implementing to better assist the Prosecutor General of Ukraine against Russia’s violent aggression. With over 125,000 potential violations of human rights and international law, there must be a prioritization of incidents. Along with this, the U.S. has created an atrocity crimes advisory group with the European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK). Criminal justice experts are sent to work in Ukraine and partner with their Ukrainian counterparts in these cases. According to Ambassador Van Schaack, the biggest issues here are sexual violence and environmental crimes, and there’s a lot more to be done to support Ukraine’s prosecution team.

Pathway Two covers international institutions, especially the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICC has been heavily involved in attempting to prosecute President Putin and Russia’s leadership for their 2022 invasion of Ukraine, along with 43 other states. The current ICC prosecutor Mr. Karim A.A. Khan KC has opened an investigation, with the first two warrants being against President Putin and Ms. Maria Lvova-Belova. As Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Lvova-Belova is the mastermind behind the tragic deportations of Ukrainian children. Aside from the ICC, the United Nations (UN) formulated a Commission of Inquiry in Geneva, specializing on crimes against children and energy infrastructure. Other mechanisms for accountability have also been utilized, including: the Moscow Mechanism, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe. An international human rights organization, the Council of Europe formed a registrar of damage for Ukrainian civilians to file claims, as well as an online platform to file claims for harm to personal property. Ambassador Van Schaack was a prominent figure in increasing the engagement of said organizations, as she led a U.S. delegation to The Hague for these things, with a potential Claims Commission coming for the Council of Europe next.

Pathway Three relates to cases from third party states involved in the conflict, as many states have integrated these mechanisms into their own domestic legal systems. An important concept Ambassador Van Schaack brought up here was “universal accountability”. This means having an international monitoring system in place to watch and hold those accountable for certain criminal actions. A good example she included was the horrible crisis of refugees going into Europe from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Pathway Four that Ambassador Van Schaack pointed out was Russia’s crime of aggression, a crime that hasn’t been truly prosecuted since World War II with the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials. A relatable experience she discussed for this pathway was her exposure to the 2010 Review Conference of the Rome Statute with the ICC in Kampala, Uganda. This propelled Ambassador Van Schaack to pursue the role in government and global criminal justice that she holds today. She went on to express potential model institutions that can hold Russia and its leadership responsible, aside from the UN since Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. She stated one proposal to create a new “ad hoc” jurisdiction within the ICC to better assist Ukraine, and that monthly meetings with member states have been happening to finalize this institution. Other options would be the International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression (ICPA) in The Hague, or another potential organization through the Council of Europe.

The last pathway, Pathway Five, analyzed U.S. involvement in Ukraine and what’s next for the U.S. in terms of further support. Ambassador Van Schaack pointed out that the Department of Justice (DOJ) does have a human rights and war crimes prosecution unit, and that the DOJ drafted a war crimes statute. Moreover, the DOJ implemented its first indictments against three Russian individuals for unlawful confinement and torture against a U.S. citizen. All of the pathways that Ambassador Van Schaack presented work hand-in-hand with each other, and closely relate to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 of the UN. By establishing such important institutions through multilateral cooperation and democratic organizations, peace and justice can be upheld in Ukraine and the world.

After Ambassador Van Schaack’s influential and informative speech, the floor was opened up for a brief Q&A session with members from the audience. The first question was asked by a junior international affairs student from the University of Southern California (USC). His question was: what has been done by the State Department to better incentivize the private sector to get involved in global criminal justice? Ambassador Van Schaack stated that the McCain Institute has done a significant amount of research and held events to raise awareness on these issues, along with other think tanks and research groups. Satellite and intelligence organizations have also been tracking the events of the conflict and the flow of Ukrainian refugees. Another question came from another junior student at USC. His question was: how can peacebuilding and grassroots organizations strengthen global criminal justice? Ambassador Van Schaack said they must work with peace builders to promote stability and safety in the world, and prevent issues such as genocide. They must also know how to enact sanctions and handle reconciliation efforts or transitional justice. In ending her remarks, she mentioned that this process of global reintegration for Ukraine will come later rather than sooner, yet it will be quite interesting to witness. After a grateful amount of applause, the event concluded with brief remarks from Jill Christianson. She told the audience to attend the upcoming Young Professionals’ Spring Career Dinners event on May 4th, and what UNA-NCA and its members can do to better contribute to global criminal justice.

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