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Posted April 26, 2007

Students Assist in Formation of Cambodia Tribunal

Alan Wong '08

Alan Wong '08

Coleen Schoch '08

Coleen Schoch '08

Five Virginia Law students advised the United Nations on establishing a Cambodian tribunal to bring to justice the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the mass killing of an estimated 1.5 million Cambodian citizens in the 1970s. Under the supervision of visiting law professor Linda Malone, the students researched confidential questions related to the procedural and structural aspects of the tribunal and reported their conclusions to a U.N. representative.

“They are in the final stages of hopefully getting the tribunal put together to the satisfaction of both the United Nations and Cambodian government,” said Malone, who directs the National Security Law Program at the College of William and Mary School of Law. “There’s no question that the research was important enough that they wanted a summary of it as soon as possible. Even though the students are writing their memos for the purposes of credit now and have a later deadline for writing up their conclusions, it was urgent enough and important enough that they called in the conclusions of their research so that the parties would have that information on which to act and negotiate.”

Students who volunteered for the project gained valuable hands-on experience in international law and justice, but due to the confidential nature of the project they aren’t allowed to discuss what they researched or recommended. Three of the students will receive one credit hour of directed research for their work.

The summer before coming to law school, second-year law student Alan Wong toured some of the Cambodian camps where people were tortured and murdered. What he saw, combined with his interest in international law, inspired him to help when the opportunity arose. “It’s really nice that we are getting involved in this in its developing stages. I’ll be interested to see where it goes from here,” he said. “A lot of times you don’t feel like your learning is contributing to anything, so it was nice to put it into practice.”

The opportunity for law students to participate in the formation stage of a tribunal is rare, which is one reason second-year law student Coleen Schoch jumped at the opportunity. “I thought it was so interesting and a one-time experience because they are trying to establish the tribunal,” she said. “It was worth taking the extra time and trying to help out. It’s just interesting to see the issues they are having trouble with and then researching international law and trying to come up with arguments on what the best policy is.”

Malone plans to continue to work with the Cambodian tribunal as it progresses. “It’s very unusual to have an opportunity to do research for a tribunal that is not yet established to see if it can be or how it can be established and that’s very different from the other clinics—the International Tribunals Clinic and the Iraqi Tribunal Clinic—that I’ve been supervising. It gives the students yet another perspective on the kinds of international legal issues that can come up at different points in time.”
• Reported by Emily Williams