Leigh Swigart

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

leigh swigartRead Leigh's Spotlights on Language, Culture and Justice: October 2019, November 2019, December 2019, November 2021, and December 2022.

I 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.

Areas of Interest

  • International justice
  • Criminal procedures
  • Interpretation & translation
  • Africa

Relevant Publications

Find links to the publications below at my Brandeis Scholarworks page.
  • "The Impacts of English-Language Hegemony on the International Criminal Court." In International Criminal Law: A Counter-Hegemonic Project? Florian Jessberger, Leonie Steinl and Kalika Mehta, Eds., Springer, 2023.
  • "Now You See It, Now You Don't: Culture at the International Criminal Court." In Intersections of Law and Culture at the International Criminal Court, Julie Fraser and Brianne McGonigle Leyh, Eds., Edward Elgar, 2020.
  • "Unseen and Unsung: ICC Language Services and their Impact on Institutional Legitimacy." in Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication, Freya Baetens, Ed., Cambridge University Press, 2019.
  • "Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in International Criminal Justice: Bridging the Divide." The University of the Pacific Law Review, Vol. 48, January 2017.
  • "International Justice in Africa: Defining Authority and Localizing the Global," iCourts Working Paper Series, Volume 86, 2017.
  • "African Languages in International Criminal Justice: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Beyond." in Promoting Accountability under International Law for Gross Human Rights Violations in Africa: Essays in Honour of Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow. Charles Chernor Jalloh and Alhagi B.M. Marong, Eds., Brill Nijhoff, 2015.
  • "The 'National Judge': Some Reflections on Diversity in International Courts and Tribunals," Pacific Law Journal, Vol. (1):223-242, January 2010.
  • The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Make the World's Decisions, with co-authors Cesare P.R. Romano and Daniel Terris (Oxford University Press), 2007.

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