A Riverside author kicks off an international book tour this weekend at the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road, giving his neighbors a glimpse at his role in helping create the International Criminal Court, which tries those accused of war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.
David Scheffer will sign copies of his book, All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals, at an event that will also feature a presentation, readings and a question-and-answer session on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m.
The book, published by Princeton University Press was released this month. After appearing in Riverside and Chicago, Scheffer will head off on a book tour that will see him on the East Coast later in January, the West Coast in February and in Europe in March.
The book revolves around the creation of the International Criminal Court, which had its genesis in the Kosovo War in the early 1990s. After President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, Scheffer was named senior advisor to Madeline Albright, the United States’ ambassador-at-large to the United Nations.
Scheffer’s book gives an insider’s account of how the court was eventually created via the Rome Statute in 1998 and became a binding treaty in 2002, with the U.S. signing on as state sponsor – Scheffer was the man who signed the statute on behalf of the nation. In 2003, George W. Bush rejected the treaty, an act Scheffer bemoans in his book.
“At the end, we signed the Rome Statue,” said Scheffer in an interview last week with the Landmark. “Yet the Bush administration did a frontal assault on it and there was an abandonment of the ICC by the Bush administration in its early years.”
The main sticking point in the U.S. is that while an international tribunal may be fine for others, many U.S. politicians feel the nation should be above such international scrutiny.
That American “exceptionalism” is short-sighted in Scheffer’s view.
“I’d like us to be the exceptional nation in holding up the rule of law,” he said. “Don’t be so intimidated by the prospect of the rule of law,” Scheffer said. “I’d like us to be the exceptional nation in holding up the rule of law.”
Scheffer, now professor of law at Northwestern University and the director of the Center of International Human Rights, began writing his book in 2007 and called his years as a member of Clinton administration “the high mark of my career.”
Raised in Oklahoma, Scheffer got his bachelor’s degree in government and economics at Harvard. Named a Frank Knox Fellow, he attended Oxford University, where he received a B.A. from the Final Honour School of Jurisprudence, and his Master of Law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.
Scheffer was a senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace shortly before the Clinton Administration chose him to be a senior advisor to Albright.
Since his years in government, Scheffer has been a professor of law and lecturer at several universities. In 2005, he was hired by Northwestern University as its Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law and director of the Center for International Human Rights.
Scheffer and his wife, who is also an attorney, settled in Riverside and are regulars with their son at the Riverside Public Library.
“I love the Riverside Library; it’s such a beautiful building,” said Scheffer. “And I love our home in Riverside. I’m still amazed no one in Chicago even knows about it and remains a secret.”
While the U.S. eventually turned a cold shoulder to the ICC, Scheffer said he’s proud of the work he did to help create the court and remarked that it has brought scores of war criminals from Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia to justice.
“Between 1993 and today, leaders can no longer plausibly argue anymore they can act with impunity in committing atrocities,” Scheffer said, pointing out that all of those accused of genocide in the Balkans have been brought to justice as well as the vast majority of those in Rwanda.
While the U.S. is still not a signatory to the treaty, Scheffer is also hopeful that the government is moving in the direction of embracing the international court. He was supportive, for example, of the U.S. role in giving jurisdiction to the prosecution of Moammar Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court.
“The U.S. took the lead to have it referred to the court,” said Scheffer. “They’re seeing value in the ICC, that it’s of great value when seeking to address problems that erupt in these violent situations. And it sent a powerful message to Gadhafi – that we’re watching you.”