The Oxford branch of the International Criminal Court Student Network (ICCSN) hosted two major speakers in the world of International Justice this week.
Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor to have presided over the Nuremburg Trials, and current Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court James Stuart both spoke to large audiences of students.
Ferencz, a 93-year-old who recently declared himself “too busy to die”, has been nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke on Tuesday to an unexpectedly large audience of 200 students, and discussed lessons learned during his career. He also made forecasts on the challenges that will be faced by international justice in the coming decades.
On Saturday, students amazed event organisers with their decision to forgo the delights of ‘Matriculash’ to hear James Stewart speak. Stewart is currently prosecuting both the President and Deputy President of Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, respectively), in a landmark case, the first instance of the International Criminal Court taking action against an incumbent head-of-state.
He was quick to reassure anxious parties that, despite his wife being Kenyan, this had not so far resulted in too many awkward silences at the breakfast table.
Reflecting on the two events, Oxford’s ICCSN president, Sophie Scholl, a second year studying Law at Exeter College, said, “The two events attracted a much higher turnout than anticipated. In the case of Benjamin Ferencz, we had to change venues at the last minute to accommodate everyone who turned up, and many were crammed at the back of the lecture theatre.
“It was a real honour to have such an incredible historical figure in international criminal justice come to Oxford to speak to us, and whilst his speech was very witty, Ben impressed upon us that he needs us, the future generation, to carry on his work. It goes without saying that we couldn’t be happier with the success of these events, which shows a high level of interest in international criminal law amongst students.”
Brian Chang, a student at Queen’s and the brains behind the coup to secure James Stewart as a speaker, was ebullient after his visit. He told Cherwell, “James Stewart is the most senior prosecution personnel we’ve had visit us in the last five years, and his presence was a great honour for all three student-led groups involved – Oxford Lawyers without borders, Oxford ICCSN, and Oxford Transitional Justice Research Group.”
The talks marked the designation of Oxford as a key player in the UK’s ICCSN proper. The organisation liaises closely with the UN Security Council, and has seen a markedly increased workload in recent years, as global economic depression and the Arab Spring wreak havoc on international diplomatic processes.
Oxford ICCSN have been working on raising support for the ratification of the definition of ‘Crimes of Aggression’. This would empower the international community to take more stringent measures against heads-of-state who actively and knowingly violate the UN charter. By means of an internet petition, they are trying to get the 100,000 UK signatures which would be enough to force a debate in the House of Commons. Once 30 countries have accepted the definition, it can be signed into International law.
The Oxford Chapter of the ICCSN was also declared a ‘Point of Light’ on Saturday; a title which is given to higher education institutions worldwide who contribute to the research undertaken on International Criminal Law. Oxford ICCSN was re-founded last year under its present committee and, as a new society with an old and inherited mandate, faces the same challenges as the ICCSN proper and its affiliated organisations – it must strike the balance between traditional methods of campaigning for peace through justice and finding new ways to tackle new outrages against international human rights.