Gov. Bill Richardson was our commencement speaker this year. He’s built a reputation as a diplomatic troubleshooter. Not one to flinch, he’s negotiated face-to-face with some of the world’s most autocratic leaders: Fidel Castro, Sadaam Hussein, and Hugo Chavez, to name a few. At graduation he spoke of the need to sit down and make peace with enemies. He also talked about the imperative of holding accountable leaders who commit war crimes.
In short, he voiced the very things that inform two important projects at the core of this issue of the Penn Law Journal. Under the rubric of reconciliation we feature stories on two remarkable efforts in Africa. One is in Uganda, the other in Ghana.
First, Uganda. Penn Law’s Bill Burke-White, a most impressive young scholar who, like Richardson, is drawn to world trouble spots, is leading a mission to maintain the fragile peace in northern Uganda. A group of students enrolled in his seminar on Transitional Justice accompanied him there. Their task was to help him draft a report with recommendations for an enduring resolution of the two-decade-long civil war between the government and a rebel group.
Another group of students traveled with Sarah Paoletti to a refugee camp in Ghana. Sarah, head of our Transnational Clinic, is a passionate defender of human rights. She led her students in what can only be described as a comprehensive oral history of the wages of the civil war in nearby Liberia. Students interviewed scores of victims. They compiled a record that will stand the test of time and provide a database of human rights violations and abuses to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
On their own, these are truly extraordinary achievements worth chronicling. But the package includes another fascinating story: we go inside the work of Seeds of Peace, a camp in Maine close to the heart of Bob Toll, L’66, and his wife Jane. In a stretch of woods counselors seek a clearing in relations between Israeli and Arab youths. They work to mediate years of conflict — one child at a time. In his own way, Dr. Stephen Raper is seeking reconciliation as well. Dr. Raper, the subject of another piece, faced a defining moment in his career several years ago. He participated in a failed gene therapy trial at Penn. The death of a young adult caused him to reexamine his life. The experience also drove him through the doors of Penn Law, where he is pursuing a J.D., giving great thought to the inadequacy of informed consent and grappling with big questions around medicine, ethics, and law.
Reading the piece on Dr. Raper I was reminded that there are no easy answers to life and death questions, whether in medicine or war. The international crisis in Georgia, the resurgence of the Taliban, and the resignation of Pakistani President Musharaaf concentrate the mind.