LOS ANGELES—When USC Law student Seepan Parseghian graduates this week, he won’t immediately take a job at a law firm or a position with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Instead, Parseghian will be preparing to travel this summer to work with judges and legal staff at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.
Parseghian is one of six USC Law students selected to take part in the school’s new International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), which for the past several months, has been working remotely from Los Angeles with the judges on trials involving charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. All of the defendants were high-level government ministers and politicians allegedly responsible for planning and ordering the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in approximately 800,000 deaths within a period of two months.
“It will be an incredible experience to meet face-to-face with the judges and legal staff on these historic trials. This is the kind of legal education I dreamt of entering law school,” said Parseghian, 24, who earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 2007 from Stanford University.
Fighting genocide is important to Parseghian because his grandparents were survivors of the Armenian genocide a century ago. Parseghian has been an active member of several Armenian-American organizations, having served as president of the Stanford Armenian Students’ Association, Executive Director of Fast for Armenia, a student-led charity, and as an intern with the Armenian National Committee of American in Washington, DC.
“As a descendant of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, I have throughout my life advocated for recognition of the Armenian Genocide and prevention of future crimes against humanity,” he said. “When I came to USC Law, I was yearning for an opportunity to use my legal skills to solve real world problems on the international stage.”
Now Parseghian looks forward to working on cases addressing genocide perpetrated against victims a world away.
“When I learned about the clinic, I realized that it not only fulfilled that desire, but also represented the most effective way to honor the memory of my grandparents – by applying my legal education to work on cases that seek justice for crimes against humanity that occur through to the present day,” he said.
Under the supervision of Prof. Hannah Garry, director of the IHRC, this USC Law clinic has partnered with judges and legal staff on cases before the ICTR. These partnerships are the first of their kind with an American law school.
“This has been an incredible and unique opportunity for USC Law,” Garry said. “Students such as Seepan with a passion for enforcing the most fundamental human rights norms are gaining the knowledge and skills required for addressing mass atrocities under international law. They are also providing critical support to tribunals established to bring justice to the millions of victims and their families who have suffered unspeakable horrors in these parts of the world.”
For the past several months, Parseghian and fellow third-year law students Jamie Hoffman and Shannon Raj worked remotely with the ICTR Karemera et al. and Bizimungu et al. Trial Chambers under the close supervision of Prof. Garry, assisting the Chambers with wrapping up the trials and rendering the final judgments.
In addition to providing research and specialized advice on diverse substantive and procedural legal issues arising under international law, Parseghian reviewed and analyzed evidence submitted at trial in order to assist with the drafting of judicial documents. and co-authored reports updating the Trial Chambers on relevant jurisprudence.
After taking the California Bar Exam in July, Parseghian will travel to Arusha, Tanzania, where he will continue to assist with the rendering of the Karemera et al. and Bizimungu et al. judgments as well as work on other pending cases before the Tribunal. He will also travel to genocide memorial sites and speak with survivors in neighboring Rwanda.
“Working with the Clinic and the ICTR has been an immensely gratifying and educational experience, both on a personal and professional level,” Parseghian added. “I look forward to working on-site in Arusha with the ICTR to witness firsthand how the law advances international human rights norms and brings justice to those who have had to endure the most evil forms of violence.”