Thursday, July 6, 2017

Never Again

Instead of eating breakfast at the RPCC, I walked over to the Amit Bhatia Café inside Olin Library this morning. Because the library is only a 10-minute walk from Myron Taylor law school,  I didn't exactly have to worry about getting to class for another hour. So, I decided to order some pumpkin bread and hot cocoa and read future assignments at the café.

Class started at 9:30 AM. Today we talked about the International community’s accountability for past human rights violations in situations such as the Rwandan genocide, South African Apartheid, and Srebrenica Massacre. In particular, we touched on the role that the Nuremberg Trials after WWII played in establishing rules against crimes of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against peace and humanity. The International Law Commission tried their best to hold perpetrators accountable in the aftermath of the Holocaust, but their “never again” mantra never worked out and mass atrocities continued to take place without any actual opposition.

The idea of establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute individuals for their involvement in genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity came after WWII. Similarly, Ad-hoc tribunals were established, the main ones being the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

It was a heavy topic and one that really put a damper on my day. I could hardly watch the clips that Professor Brundige showed in class of dead bodies and cries for help during these bloody, horrific days. What hit me especially hard was the fact that we were sitting in an air-conditioned room taking notes on these atrocities, while of the mothers shown sobbing for their slaughtered, abducted spouses and children back still have to live with that reality. After all, the cases that we were looking at happened not too long ago (all three of them in early 1990s).  

As difficult as the events were to process emotionally, doing so taught me so much. This past week or so, I realized how frustrated I was about the fact that the International Human Rights system seemed to have no real binding effect on states and individuals. I learned today that this is possible and it has provided me with a great sense of hope and comfort. I want to be like my professor and do an internship with the ICTY in which a journalist takes me around shady parts of Bosnia to find war criminals. Is that too much to ask?

After the initial lecture, the class had their TA sessions. Essentially, we have open discussions about controversial issues and the application of international law. Diogo (TA) likes to say that he’s helping us acquire the tools that we need to succeed later on in life as advocates and activists. My last name falls under the A-K category, so I have been in Diogo’s group for about two weeks. Today was his last day at Cornell for the summer. He gave a little talk in which he emphasized how mature and knowledgeable we were for our age. Diogo encouraged us to keep striving for justice. He also made it very clear that recommendations are a big deal and we should keep his email with us in case we decide to attend law school and “want someone to compare us to Einstein” in the future.

J'nai is great at Tennis. It's only her second time
playing too!
I spoke with him individually a little bit after that and he actually made me promise that I would keep in touch (I did). I’ve learned so much through our sessions and really am grateful that Diogo has been there to answer my questions and make everyone feel comfortable and acknowledged.

For lunch, I went to Trillium with my friends. On the way there, we spotted people up in the clock tower. The majority of them ignored our attempts at waving, but eventually, we got someone to wave back.  J’nai was especially ecstatic about this achievement and wanted me to include it in this blog. I, on the other hand, couldn’t figure out how they had gotten there in the first place. I had tried to climb the tower several times before, but it was locked and I was told that it wouldn’t be open until late August. It disappointed me a little bit because that was one of the experiences on my Ithaca Bucket list that I missed out on.

Today the class had another special guest speaker come in, Delphine Lourtau, Executive Director for the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Ms. Lourtau spoke about capital punishment and how inconsistent it is, but also the global movement towards abolition. The death penalty is essentially a “minority phenomenon in the world today.” The US seems to be one of the few states that still rely on the practice. In 2016, 20 executions were carried out in 5 states (Texas, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama).

I had such a hard time hitting that ball back. 
International Organizations argue that everyone has the right to live, no one shall be deprived of that right, and this right shall be protected by law. They also take into account the many botched executions that are performed annually and how this violated laws against torture.

I personally am not sure what my views on the penalty are. They tend to vary and change as I learn more and more. Yes, I do agree that it isn’t a legitimate response to crime; neither does it have any actual preventative effect. I agree that many innocent people have been murdered as a result of the lack of investigation. That should definitely be fixed. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but when it comes down to it, at times I do feel as though the eye for an eye approach is most fair in extreme cases. 

Ms. Lourtau taught me personally a lot about capital punishment, and I’m positive that it will have some type of an impact on the way in which I see it. I aspire to have as much insight into a particular topic, especially one as important as the death penalty.

 When I got back to Balch, it was around 4:30 PM. I had picked up a book called “Letters To A Young Muslim” by author Omair Saif Ghobash at Olin Library along the way. The book seems to want to tackle major challenges within the Muslim community itself and I, a Muslim wanting the best for my community, find that refreshing and something to look forward to reading at the Slope during sunset hours.

I watched my friend J’nai play tennis afterward and tried it out as well. They didn’t have enough rackets to hand out, but that didn’t bother me because the sport was even harder for me to participate in as a badminton player. All of the techniques and movements were opposite and I couldn’t seem to figure them out.

Tennis wore me out, but it wasn’t necessarily the end of this busy day. Robson, Pooja, and I headed over to the Balch courtyard after dinner. They were having an LBTQ+ pride celebration. We decorated our own cookies and took pictures in front of the rainbow flag. It was fun, but also a great way for us to share our thoughts and concerns regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As if the morning hadn’t been as emotionally hard to bear, Sultana, Pooja, Robson and I met at Donlon Lounge and decided to watch one of the most iconic Bollywood movies of all time, “Kabi Khushi Kabi Gham.” The title of the film literally translates to “sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness,” but most of the scenes are sad and made me feel homesick. But, I watched the movie at least 70 times before within my lifetime, so Sultana and I didn’t finish it. We came back to Balch before night check and decided to call it a day. 

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