Beth Van Schaack
Professor of Law
Deputy to U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for War Crimes Issues, Office of Global Criminal Justice, U.S. State Department
"When they rape your sister and they loot your belongings, you have to shut up because you’re going to be killed."
Acting as a war crimes prosecutor, Beth Van Schaack, a professor at Santa Clara Law, stood in a black robe before a panel of judges and heard this testimony from Jarelnabi Abbass Abusikin, who survived an attack on his village in Darfur, Sudan.
The question Van Schaack had asked him was whether anyone had lodged a complaint about the violence. “We don’t have that concept of complaint,” he said.
Van Schaack believes they should. A graduate of Yale Law School and Stanford, Van Schaack clerked at the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and was trial counsel for torture survivors in a historic human rights lawsuit against two Salvadoran generals, which resulted in a $54.6 million verdict. Last fall, she served as one of three prosecutors in a mock trial against Sudanese President Omaral-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Van Schaack says that in spite of the proceeding’s having no legal authority, and the outcome being somewhat “predestined,” nevertheless, “there was a sense that seeing it play out in a legal fashion in a legal forum, driven by witness testimony, gives it a real value." At a minimum, it may be a rehearsal for an actual trial. “All the materials are being sent to the International Criminal Court,” says Van Schaack, “and the witnesses may end up testifying before that body which is investigating crimes in Darfur. It also brought media attention to the atrocities in Darfur.”
Van Schaack’s efforts will not stop there. She is currently writing a casebook on international criminal law and is involved in efforts to establish accountability for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge.
Robert Cullen, teacher of leadership for lawyers courses at SCU, sees Van Schaack’s involvement in seeking justice for victims of war crimes the essence of the leadership trait Posner calls “encouraging the heart.” “Her actions are enlightening and very influential,” says Cullen. “How can students not be inspired by her story? They can see how lawyers use their legal skills to accomplish something extraordinary. It may happen in a student’s first job or 20 years down the road, but I am sure her actions will encourage many of her students to follow her pathway of social leadership.”