Judge Howard Morrison of the International Criminal Court delivers the 2018 Jonathan I. Charney Lecture

Sir Howard Morrison, who delivered the 2018 Jonathan I. Charney Distinguished Lecture in International Law at Vanderbilt Law School Aug. 27, has served as the United Kingdom judge on the International Criminal Court since December 2011. Judge Morrison began his Charney Lecture by noting that the ICC has its roots in the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials following World War II, which resulted from what he believes is the need to strive for a “deep-rooted sense of fairness and regard for order” common to people of all nations.

“It’s that fairness we apply in law and in sports,” he said. “All of national law is predicated on fairness. If it isn’t fair, it isn’t working. An unfair trial is not a trial at all; it’s simply an exercise to convict somebody.”

Morrison currently serves in the Appeals Chamber of the ICC, and his work in support of international criminal tribunals has spanned more than 25 years. He first became immersed in the practice of international criminal law in 1998 as a defense counsel for the Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. He then served as a judge for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia before his election to the seat on the ICC.

Morrison played a key role in the ICC’s establishment via the Rome Statute treaty of 2002. The ICC is also rooted in the success of the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. In the years since its establishment in The Hague, Netherlands, the Yugoslav Tribunal has indicted 161 individuals and held nearly 11,000 days of trial, including the high-profile convictions of General Ratko Mladic, Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda focused on the genocide conducted during 1994 has sentenced some 62 perpetrators, with a handful of indictees remaining at large.

The Rome Statute, Morrison explained, reflects an acknowledgement by the nations that are party to the treaty that the quest for justice for such grave offenses as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes requires a permanent international court. “Cynics might say there are a number of states who accepted that other states’ bad guys should not be able to avoid prosecution but don’t want to see their own politicians prosecuted,” Morrison said. “It’s easy to be broadminded and liberal when it comes to other people’s problems; it’s harder when you’re knocking on your own door.”

In his talk, Morrison emphasized the narrow scope of the ICC. “It’s a criminal court, and like all criminal courts it needs to be fair,” he said. He noted the advantages and disadvantages of a court that gets six new judges every nine years, in which lawyers from both civil and common law countries practice.

However, the court’s independent role in recognizing and prosecuting major crimes against humanity that occur within the borders of individual nations or across national borders is crucial, according to Morrison. “Sovereignty cannot be a shield behind which member states conceal their violations,” he said.

Morrison was introduced by Professor Michael A. Newton, who compared Morrison’s legacy with the legacy of Jonathan I. Charney, an expert on boundary disputes who spoke about the importance of international tribunals in one of his last public appearances. “His basic takeaway was that the proliferation of international tribunals has magnified the importance of international law,” Newton said.

The Jonathan I. Charney Distinguished Lecture in International Law honors Professor Charney, one of the world’s preeminent experts on international law, who held the Lee S. & Charles A. Speir Chair at Vanderbilt Law School until his death in 2002. The series funds academic lectures and other presentations on international law by distinguished figures in the field.

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