Spring 2014 Closing Arguments

Serving in State

BY BETH VAN SCHAACK, PROFESSOR, SANTA CLARA LAW

Beth Van SchaackFrom March 2012 to October 2013, I had the privilege of serving as deputy to Stephen J. Rapp, the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice (J/GCJ). J/GCJ was formed in the mid-1990s as the “Office of War Crimes Issues” to serve as the point of contact in the U.S. government for the ad hoc tribunals established by the United Nations to prosecute international crimes committed in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. As part of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review—a 17-month review of U.S. development and diplomacy policies—the office became J/GCJ and joined a suite of offices and bureaus under the new Under-Secretariat for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

As part of this departmental reorganization, the mandate of the office expanded to encompass the formulation of U.S. policy more broadly on the prevention of, responses to, and accountability for mass atrocities. Our office now coordinates the deployment of a range of diplomatic, legal, economic, military, and intelligence tools to help expose the truth, capture and judge those responsible, protect and assist victims, enable reconciliation, deter atrocities, and build the rule of law. The office also advises foreign governments and non-governmental organizations on the appropriate use of a wide range of transitional justice mechanisms, including truth and reconciliation commissions, lustrations, and reparations in addition to judicial processes. Finally, J/GCJ administers the State Department’s War Crimes Rewards Program (WCRP), which pays rewards for information leading to the arrest or conviction of individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Almost exactly a year into my term as deputy, my Blackberry rang at about 4:00 in the morning. It was my boss. Because he takes his title very seriously, the Ambassador-at-Large is on the road almost constantly —visiting the tribunals, interfacing with his foreign counterparts, consulting on international and transitional justice efforts, conducting diplomacy in support of U.S. foreign policy, and attending multilateral gatherings devoted to J/GCJ issues. Therefore, I generally managed our Washington D.C.-based policy work and became used to him calling at odd hours from around the globe. This call, however, came at a particularly ungodly time. “I know this is going to be good,” I said as I answered the phone. Sure enough, it turned out that Bosco Ntaganda—a Congolese rebel leader known as “The Terminator” who had been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity—had arrived at the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Ntaganda had apparently slipped across the border after his forces were routed in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by a rival rebel faction. He wanted to turn himself in to the ICC.

We may never know if [our] reward played a role in Ntaganda’s decision to turn himself in on his own terms … [he] obviously decided that facing charges before the ICC was a safer bet than the fate that might befall him were he to remain on the run, go undercover in Rwanda, or linger embedded within forces of dubious loyalty.

I spent the next week working with the interagency, ICC personnel, and the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands to successfully transfer Ntaganda to The Hague via a plane specially chartered for this purpose. Interestingly, only weeks before and on J/GCJ’s recommendation, Secretary John Kerry had authorized the payment of a reward for information leading to Ntaganda’s capture under the WCRP. This development had not yet been formally announced, but it had been made public in a well-read blog devoted to the conflict in the DRC. We may never know if this reward played a role in Ntaganda’s decision to turn himself in on his own terms, rather than on the terms of a potential reward-seeker. Ntaganda obviously decided that facing charges before the ICC was a safer bet than the fate that might befall him were he to remain on the run, go undercover in Rwanda, or linger embedded within forces of dubious loyalty. He was asked why he turned himself in to the embassy of a government that is not a yet party to the ICC treaty. His answer: he knew we would treat him fairly. I never felt prouder to work for our government than at that moment. Ntaganda is now in pre-trial proceedings in The Hague; his rebel group disintegrated after government troops launched a decisive offensive against it with crucial assistance from a UN Intervention Brigade.

This was just one of many fascinating and transformative experiences during my time in the State Department. But, what I value most was the opportunity to work with incredibly dedicated, smart, and creative colleagues across the interagency. I learned something from them every day, and every day I left the office feeling as if my contributions had been decisive. Who knew that such wonderful friendships could develop in the crucible of interagency negotiations, diplomatic crises, and multilateral machinations? While in Washington, I also had the pleasure of working and socializing with many Santa Clara graduates, including my former students Ann Marie Ursini J.D. ’09, who recently joined the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Unit; Esmeralda López J.D. ’06, at the Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; and Jeffrey Larson B.A. ’05, J.D. ’08, also in the State Department. In short, this was an incredible experience, and I look forward to integrating all that I learned about the formation of foreign policy, international and domestic law, and international affairs into my teaching and scholarship next year.


Professor Beth Van Schaack has taught at Santa Clara Law since 2003. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and will return to Santa Clara Law in fall 2015. She was formerly the deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the U.S. Department of State. She has been a member of the U.S. Department of State’s Advisory Council on International Law and has served on the United States interagency delegation to the International Criminal Court Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda. Van Schaack was formerly an associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP. She has also served as acting executive director of The Center for Justice and Accountability and as a law clerk with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School. She is a contributor to JustSecurity.org (see: justsecurity.org/author/vanschaackbeth/).