It may surprise some to know the United States is not one of the 122 sovereign states which have ratified or agreed to the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"When I go to meetings of the ICC, the United States has to sit way in the back [of the room] as a non-state party, and they have to speak last," says Leila Nadya Sadat, International Criminal Court (ICC) special adviser on Crimes Against Humanity. "We have very little access or influence. So when we want something done, we resort to strong-arming ... which in diplomacy is not very effective."

Sadat, speaking Wednesday at the 2013 NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo in St. Louis, MO, says the best action those in the United States can take is to encourage their legislators to support the international court. "U.S. leadership," she says, "would be huge."

"We have to get the United States to recognize its own weight in the world. You can graduate from one of the top law programs in the country having never had any exposure to international law. That's shocking."

Sadat now aims to raise awareness for the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, launched in response to the need for a comprehensive multilateral treaty on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. As one of three categories of crimes elaborated by the Nuremberg Charter after World War II, crimes against humanity — unlike genocide or war crimes — never received a comprehensive convention by the international community. Twenty-seven articles of a proposed treaty have already been drafted as part of the initiative, and governments are being pushed to take it forward.

When Negotiations Fail 

"'Crimes against humanity' is the broadest crime that can happen," Sadat said, and they can happen during times of peace.

"It doesn't work to pay off dictators [responsible for atrocity crimes]," Sadat says. "It fuels a cycle of impunity. All they have to do is behave badly enough, and then get paid off to stop. But the atrocities don't stop. The United States does not ransom with terrorists, so why would we make deals with those guilty of crimes against humanity or war crimes?"

The United States is behind when it comes to this form of international engagement, Sadat says, but that can change as more people are globally educated.

Learn More

The book Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanityedited by Sadat, helps readers understand various aspects of crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing, gender crimes, and ad hoc tribunals, as well as a history of the proposed convention.

International educators can also get involved in NAFSA's Peace, Justice, and Citizen Diplomacy SIG, founded in 2006 to "promote global understanding ... that will contribute significantly to ending conflict, international aggression, and to uphold the ideals of peace and global justice."

Eager to get involved? Get connected with members of NAFSA's Peace, Justice, and Citizen Diplomacy SIG on LinkedIn.