It is miles between Gonzaga University Law School and the mass graves of Rwanda and Bosnia, but the Rev. Robert Araujo’s work crosses the distance.
The associate law professor and Jesuit priest, at the request of the Vatican, is helping define what constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Araujo, 49, has joined the Vatican’s delegation to the United Nations committee considering whether to establish an International Criminal Court.
The U.N. has created two temporary courts to handle charges of mass murder and mass rape in Bosnia and Rwanda. Members are now considering whether a permanent court would also make sense.
Araujo believes there can and should be an international court for crimes against humanity. But what that court can accomplish is another matter.
One of the biggest obstacles is obvious in the case of the former Yugoslavia. When the first war crime trials since World War II were held last year, 74 suspects were indicted. Only two have been prosecuted.
Most suspected war criminals - including the Bosnian Serbs’ wartime political and military leaders - remain at large.
Araujo said one solution may be to get individual countries where the crime occurred to try suspects in their own national courts. But that requires the cooperation of many sovereign nations - and agreements on what constitutes a war crime.
Since World War II, nations have generally agreed on such atrocities as genocide, mass rape and the use of chemical and biological weapons.
Other crimes of aggression are fuzzier: Could a nation’s pre-emptive strike be considered a crime? Could the United States’ forays into Panama or Grenada - or Great Britain’s into the Falklands - be viewed as crimes of aggression? Could the routine deportation of aliens from the U.S. and Canada be crimes against humanity?
Araujo said that these issues are even being debated shows hope. Unfortunately, the need for an international court isn’t going away.
“There is something in human nature that has a horrible dark side that comes out all too frequently,” he said. “As soon as I feel it will never happen again, it does.”
Araujo, who teaches international public law at Gonzaga, was asked to join the Delegation of the Holy See, a permanent observer at the U.N. The Holy See represents the Roman Catholic Church.
Last month, he attended the closed-door meetings of the U.N. preparatory committee discussing the proposed court. He’s expecting to attend August meetings, as well.
Even before the call from his Jesuit superior notifying him of his selection, Araujo had begun moving his immense knowledge of international law from the academic hallways into the real world.
Last spring, news articles on the terrible toll of land mines in such countries as Cambodia and Afghanistan prompted him to investigate how that occurs. Land mines are available for $2 to $3 and kill or maim an estimated 25,000 people a year, mostly farmers and kids.
His essay on how international law prohibits the use of anti-personnel mines will appear this month in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law.
Araujo believes his work blends his theological study with his legal study, beginning with Mosaic law.
“Living in right relationship with God means living in right relationship with your neighbor.”
Raised in New England, Araujo has undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University, and degrees from Columbia University and Oxford University. He worked as an attorney with the U.S. Department of the Interior and Standard Oil and in private practice before joining the Jesuits..
At Gonzaga, he tells students that law is also a vocation.
“It’s what I try to do every day … it’s using the vehicle of the law to help people resolve disputes so they don’t end up killing each other.”
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