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CWRU Law Launches Yemen Accountability Project to Document War Crimes for Future Prosecution

Friday, January 11, 2019  /  Rate this article:
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Villagers scour rubble for belongings scattered during the bombing of Hajar Aukaish - Yemen - in April 2015
Villagers scour rubble for belongings scattered during the bombing of Hajar Aukaish - Yemen - in April 2015

This fall, the Henry T. King, Jr. War Crimes Research Office at Case Western Reserve University School of Law launched the Yemen Accountability Project, an open-sourced student initiative to document and map war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Yemeni Civil War. The project has received funding from alumnus Timothy Geisse (JD ‘84) and the John F. and Mary A. Geisse Foundation

Yemen has eclipsed Syria as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 deaths attributed to the conflict between March 2015 and August 2018.  An August 2018 United Nations report concludes that both sides of the conflict have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The project, which was modeled after former International Prosecutor David Crane's successful Syrian Accountability Project at Syracuse University, invited students to work in teams in the first comprehensive effort to document atrocities and lay the foundation for successful prosecutions of the responsible parties.

Expecting a handful of volunteers, director of the War Crimes Office James C. Johnson, a former Chief of Prosecutions for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, was overwhelmed by the response.  More than 70 students, including LLMs with fluency in Arabic, have volunteered to assist in the effort.

“When we put the word out about this last semester, we didn’t expect this kind of response,” said Johnson. “Despite the workloads and pressures of law school, these students are volunteering their time because they see this as an opportunity to make a difference with respect to the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”

The students working on the Yemen Accountability Project will create four distinct pieces of work: Conflict Narrative, Crime-Based Matrix, Draft Indictments, and Analytical Dossiers.

The Conflict Narrative is a chronological and historical documentation of relevant legal, geopolitical, and military events. The legally relevant incidents will be extracted and placed in the Crime-Based Matrix where the Geneva Conventions and its Protocols, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the Yemeni Penal Code will be applied to each incident.

Using the crime-based matrix, draft Indictments are created by representationally charging those that are most responsible.

Finally, Analytical Dossiers, or white papers, will break down the large amounts of data collected in the former documents and provide analysis. This will include trends analysis of the war showing how the types of crimes develop and change across the region.

The culmination of these products will provide prosecutors in a future tribunal a trial package to help and guide an efficient investigation and prosecution of those most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Yemeni Civil War.

“Our goal is to build on the success of the Syria Accountability Project, which has produced over 27,000 pages of relevant data, analysis and reports on the Syrian crisis for clients including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, The International Criminal Court, The Commission of Inquiry for Syria, the International, Independent, Impartial Mechanism for Syria, and various interested States parties and NGOs,” said Johnson. “This research will be invaluable in the international community going forward, and I’m so proud of the way our students have responded to this challenge.”

This project is the latest to be launched by CWRU's War Crimes Research Office, which was established in 2003 and named for the late Nuremberg Prosecutor and CWRU Law Professor Henry King. The Office, whose work was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by an international prosecutor, has to date assisted in the prosecution of war criminals before the Yugoslavia Tribunal, the Rwanda Tribunal, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Cambodia Tribunal, the Lebanon Tribunal, the Iraqi High Court, the Uganda War Crimes Chamber, and the piracy courts in Kenya, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.  135 CWRU Law students have interned at the international tribunals, and six CWRU Law grads have gone on to careers as prosecutors and legal advisers at the international tribunals.

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