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International law scholar joins College of Law faculty

June 02, 2008

Laura A. Dickinson, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law whose work deals with transitional justice, legal responses to terror, foreign affairs privatization, and the interrelationship between international and domestic law, will join the faculty of the Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in August.

She will also become director of a new center on international law and national security, to be jointly sponsored by the College of Law and the School for Global Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“ASU is a university whose faculty are striving to solve some of the most serious problems facing the state, the nation and the world,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Laura A. Dickinson is a renowned scholar who is focused on international issues of great consequence, and we are fortunate that she has agreed to join our College of Law.”

Dickinson, a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, will be a Foundation Professor of Law and will teach human rights and courses related to international law and administrative law. Her appointment enhances the College of Law’s already strong faculty in international law, human rights and national security.

“Professor Dickinson will be an important bridge between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Law,” said Elizabeth Capaldi, ASU’s executive vice president and provost. “Her appointment builds on current strengths at ASU to create an interdisciplinary program in the area of international law with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Her center in this area will be adding two additional faculty members shortly, positioning ASU as a leader in global education and research.”

Added Quentin Wheeler, university vice president and dean, “As the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences becomes increasingly global in its vision and reach, the expertise that Professor Dickinson brings will be of inestimable value to our students and programs. Her widely recognized views on international issues, human rights, and democracy studies are of deep relevance to many of our units and programs. Under her leadership, the new research center in the college will have far reaching impacts on campus, across the nation and around the world.”

In commenting on her scholarly interests, Dickinson said, “I became interested in human rights when, as a law student, I had the opportunity to take a human-rights clinic. We sued the U.S. government for Haitian and Cuban refugees who were picked up on the high seas and brought to Guantanamo Bay. They were not getting any screening to see if they were refugees, and we challenged that in federal court.”

Following that early experience, Dickinson worked on a variety of alien tort cases in which non-citizens could bring cases of torture or other serious human rights abuses in federal court against foreign dictators who came to the United States.

Dickinson, who is widely published and quoted, is the author of the upcoming book, Outsourcing War and Peace, to be published by Yale University Press. The book focuses on the increasing privatization of military functions, foreign aid and diplomacy, the ways in which such privatization affects human-rights law, and the variety of mechanisms that might be used to create greater accountability over private actors working abroad under government contracts.

“When we went to war in Iraq, I could see after the first year that we were using contractors to an unprecedented degree,” Dickinson said. “I was interested in the human rights implications of that.”

Jeremy Paul, dean of University of Connecticut School of Law, said Dickinson's work is notable because it avoids the polarized views on the issue.

"Laura's work steers a course between two extremes," Paul said. "She thinks it's unrealistic to believe public financing can fund all activity overseas and that contracting is here to stay. In that regard, she's breaking from liberal orthodoxy.

"On the other hand, she believes it is extremely important to police the activities of all the non-governmental agencies representing our country around the world. Her book, which proposes a series of accountability mechanisms that would start with the contract the agency signs, will be extremely important."

Added Patricia D. White, dean of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, “Laura Dickinson is emerging as one of the real stars in international law and the College of Law is fortunate indeed to have her joining its faculty.”

Dickinson served as a senior policy adviser to Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State. She also served as a law clerk to Justices Harry A. Blackmun and Stephen G. Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court and to Judge Dorothy Nelson on the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals.

At Connecticut, Dickinson taught International Human Rights, Property, Post-Conflict Justice, First Amendment Law, and Human Rights Practice. The Human Rights Practice course was a unique collaboration between the University of Connecticut Law School and the U.S. Regime Crimes Liaison Office in Baghdad, in which students did research and submitted legal memoranda to assist in the prosecution of persons before the Iraqi Special Tribunal, a specially constituted Iraqi court with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as well as several serious domestic Iraqi crimes, committed during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Dickinson also has been a visiting professor and research scholar in the Law and Public Affairs Program at Princeton University, where she worked on a policy initiative on contractor accountability.

She is on the executive council of The American Society of International Law and is active in the Law and Society Association.

In 2006, she worked with Sally Engle Merry, professor of Anthropology and Law and Society at New York University, to establish a collaborative research network to work on empirical approaches to human rights through the Law and Society Association.

“More and more people are bringing an empirical perspective to the human rights field, studying the complex ways in which global norms and local practice interact. We wanted to create a forum to bring these people together and expand the impact of this work,” Dickinson said. “The close interaction between the College of Law and the School for Global Studies at ASU will allow me to continue this initiative and hopefully help to make ASU a national center for empirical work on human rights.”