International symposium at York University will explore serious international crimes and forced migration

A two-day symposium at York University, May 30 and 31, will bring together some of the world’s top legal scholars and jurists to explore issues related to serious international crimes, human rights and forced migration.

Organized by the Nathanson Centre for Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security at Osgoode Hall Law School and McLaughlin College at York University, the symposium, titled “Serious International Crimes, Human Rights, and Forced Migration,” will be held in the Helliwell Centre, Room 1014, Ignat Kaneff Building (Osgoode Hall Law School) on the Keele Campus.

James Simeon

More than one year in the making, the symposium will bring together leading thinkers and authorities in the field to explore legal issues related to the commission of serious international crimes that result in the severest breaches in fundamental human rights. These breaches, such as the Syrian war, often produce mass forced displacement. The Syrian war is a well-documented ongoing humanitarian crisis. The death toll from this conflict was estimated to be as high as 570,000 people as of December 2018. More than 6.1 million people have been internally displaced by the Syrian war and 5.7 million have fled the country.

Those who are responsible for serious international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of aggression, are excluded from refugee protection under the various international instruments that are intended to protect refugees. International and municipal law recognize the basic ethical and moral principle that those who are responsible for creating refugees shall not receive the protection of laws intended to protect refugees. There are many legal issues that come to the fore in cases involving those who are responsible for serious international crimes, both with respect to their prosecution or whether they seek asylum abroad based on a well-founded fear of persecution or are subject to exclusion from refugee protection. The symposium will seek to consider these difficult legal and public policy issues through an interesting symposium structure and format that brings together an international cohort of jurists, legal scholars and researchers.

The symposium features two keynote addresses. The May 30 keynote will be delivered by Professor Elies van Sliedregt, Chair in International and Comparative Criminal Justice at the University of Leeds School of Law in the United Kingdom. The May 31 keynote will be given by Justice Sir Howard Morrison, Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. The keynotes will be followed by three panel sessions that will consider serious international crimes, human rights and forced displacement. The first day of the symposium will be devoted to national and transnational law, while the second day will be devoted to the international law dimensions of these highly complex and difficult areas.

Each of the six panel sessions will be chaired by a senior justice, with papers presented by legal practitioners, scholars and researchers. “The symposium is designed to provide plenty of time for dialogue and discussion on the legal issues raised by the paper presenters,” says York University Professor James Simeon, who is head of McLaughlin College and one of the event co-organizers.

“We are anticipating a highly interesting and constructive dialogue between the sitting justices and the legal practitioners, scholars and researchers who will be considering these legal issues and concerns from quite different perspectives, the judicial decision-maker and the advocate or legal theorist,” adds Simeon. “What we hope will emerge from this unique structure and dialogue is new insights, viewpoints, and perhaps approaches to the legal issues and questions under consideration.”

Some of the senior judicial participants who will Chair the panel sessions include: Justice Isaac Lenaola, Supreme Court of Kenya; Justices Anne Mactavish and Robert Barnes, Federal Court (Canada); Justice Katelijne Declerck, Council of Aliens Law Litigation, Belgium; and Upper Tribunal Judge Judith Gleeson, Immigration and Asylum Chamber, U.K.

Among the advocates and legal scholars who will be presenting papers are: Lorne Waldman, widely recognized as one of Canada’s most influential lawyers; Professor Fannie Lafontaine, Faculty of Law, University of Laval; Professors Joris van Wijk and Maarten Bolhuis, Faculty of Law, Criminology, Virje Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Professor Satvinder Juss, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College, London; Yao Li, senior research Fellow, Office of the Chair for German and International Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Modern Legal History, Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany; and Sarah Singer, senior lecturer in refugee law, Refugee Law Initiative, School of Advanced Study, University of London, among others.

In addition to the in-depth examination of the legal issues and concerns, there are plans to publish the papers and establish an international research team to carry this work forward.

“The genesis of this symposium came out of the work that I was doing during my sabbatical last academic year at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge. I was very fortunate to meet a number of like-minded colleagues there, including the formidable Professor van Sliedregt,” says Simeon. “My work at the University of Cambridge is now bearing fruit, finally, here at York University. And, to have two outstanding Faculties who are supporting this initiative is a testament to York University’s dedication and commitment to ‘international collaborative interdisciplinary studies’ on some of the most pressing issues of the day.”

The symposium has received financial support from the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation at York University. To learn more, visit the Serious International Crimes, Human Rights, and Forced Migration Symposium web page, or register to attend at