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Posted June 10, 2009
Summer Research

John White '11: From Shariah Law to Suing Blackwater

Medina

The ground was already running when I hit it. Professor Deena Hurwitz, with whom I am working this summer, has been involved with a transnational Muslim women’s rights network, Musawah, since its inception earlier this year. My first assignment was preliminary research on reconciling Islamic law (Shariah) with secular jurisprudence in several countries that apply both Islamic law and civil law. More often than not, the imposition of religious law works to the detriment of women, and reform is certainly needed in many of these dualistic legal regimes. In working with Musawah, I hope to support some of that reform in small but significant ways in the coming weeks.

I am also working with the firm Burke O’Neil in their litigation against Blackwater, the private military corporation, to hold the company accountable for the marketplace shootings that killed 20 innocent civilians in Iraq. There are several interesting legal issues to tussle with, and I am very interested to see how this suit will pan out. Earlier this summer, Professor Hurwitz, through the Human Rights Program, co-sponsored a conference on “Applying International Humanitarian Law” (with the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School and the International Committee of the Red Cross) that was attended by congressional staff, JAG officers, various members of the human rights/humanitarian law community and one lucky research assistant. The conference introduced the participants to some of the more abstract areas of international law, particularly in light of the "war on terror." What are the distinctions between humanitarian law and human rights law, and where do they overlap? Which body of law should apply in conflicts against non-nationalist "terrorist" organizations?  What obligations does the United States have within these frameworks? These questions may not have clear-cut answers, but they cannot be avoided and will be frequently litigated in the coming years.

Overall, this has already been an extraordinary experience, and I am looking forward to what is up ahead.

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