David M. Crane Interviewed by Daily Orange About Sri Lanka Appointment

SU College of Law Professor Provides Legal Counsel in Sri Lanka

(Re-Published from The Daily Orange, 14 Jan., 2015) The rule of the law is more powerful than the rule of the gun.

That was a guiding principle in Syracuse University College of Law professor David Crane’s work as the chief prosecutor for the Special Court of Sierra Leone, then later in his work with Syria and now in his work with Sri Lanka.

[pullquoteright]I wanted to walk the ground where the alleged war crimes took place in northern, northeastern Sri Lanka.”[/pullquoteright]This past winter break, Crane spent eight days in Sri Lanka as part of an ongoing mandate. He was appointed by the president of Sri Lanka in the fall of 2014 to provide legal counsel to a commission that is investigating alleged war crimes from a 30-year war.

“The commission has certain legal issues related to international humanitarian law and they ask those questions and a member of the advisory panel provides those answers,” Crane said. “Like any legal situation, there’s a client who says ‘I have a legal question,’ and they ask us.”

His work is part of the aftermath of a 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka. The Tamil people of the north sought independence from the majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese. The Tamil Tigers, as they’re called, used “extreme terrorist tactics” in this war, Crane said.

“The Tamil Tigers are the group that developed the weapons of terror that are currently being used by other terrorist organizations today,” Crane said. “A pretty brutal group. And they used terrorist tactics to try to advance their cause. And of course, in this civil war, both sides had challenges related to war crime allegations, but the Tamil Tigers particularly were very, very brutal.”

That war came to an end in 2009. Now, the Sri Lankan government and the United Nations are investigating potential war crimes on both sides of the conflict.

“The international community over the last couple years has been looking into investigating allegations that took place at the end of the civil war as well, and there currently is a UN commission looking into these issues,” Crane said. “The president, aware of the concerns by the international community, created his own presidential commission to look into these allegations, and that’s where I fit in.”

Crane is one of four lawyers who does this. He provides legal advice, mostly from the states, but he will be making some trips to Sri Lanka.

“I was in Sri Lanka because I hadn’t been out there yet and wanted to meet with the members of the presidential commission looking into that and also to meet with various senior members of the Sri Lankan government,” Crane said. “I wanted to walk the ground where the alleged war crimes took place in northern, northeastern Sri Lanka.”

All of this experience abroad has helped Crane in his job as a professor.

He started Impunity Watch, a law journal, in 2007 and the Syrian Accountability Project in 2011. SAP is a group of roughly 35 Syracuse law students participating in an international effort to help bring President Bashar al-Assad to justice, along with others who have committed war crimes in Syria, Crane said …

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