Leigh Swigart

Director, International Programs in Justice and Society
International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

leigh swigartI have worked for many years in the field of international justice, but was originally trained as a linguistic and cultural anthropologist. My earlier research involved African sociolinguistics and urban language use. After many years of organizing the Brandeis Institute for International Judges and other international law programs, I decided to pursue a question that emerged often during discussions among judges from a wide array of international courts and tribunals: How do such institutions handle the challenges of linguistic, and by extrapolation, cultural diversity that inevitably arise in their work?

Over the past several years, I have turned my attention to the use of African languages in contemporary processes of international criminal justice. My most recent project, "Global Court, Local Languages: How the International Criminal Court Pursues Multilingual Justice," used an ethnographic approach to examine how the ICC accommodates the language needs of both its staff and its constituents, which include victims, populations affected by crimes and the international community more generally. My study looked at the role and status of the court's working languages — English and French — as well as its almost three dozen situation languages, many of them from the African continent. The study sought to elucidate the whole constellation of challenges, considerations and complexities associated with multilingualism and cultural difference at the ICC. The ultimate aim of the study was to shed light on critical aspects of the work of one of the most important institutions of the early 21st century.

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