Campus’s War Crimes Studies Center moves to Stanford

Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/File
Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff
Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/File

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The UC Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center will relocate its operations to Stanford University after 14 years on campus.

The War Crimes Studies Center researches topics on human rights, war crimes and genocide and sends interns to participate in international tribunals. Rhetoric department chair Marianne Constable recently requested the center be moved from the department after director David Cohen, a rhetoric professor, retired two years ago. This, along with a lack of campus funding, prompted the move.

In June, Cohen relocated his research to Stanford, knowing he might have to leave campus after his retirement. The new center, named the WSD Handa Center, will replace the Berkeley location, which is set to leave its location in Dwinelle Hall by July 31.

“Emeriti professors are not entitled office space,” Constable said. “His center was not supported by campus. I hope that Stanford is able to give the WSD Handa Center the support that it deserves.”

Ralph Hexter, the former dean of arts and humanities in the College of Letters and Sciences, previously agreed to match funds proportionally for the center with its main donor, the Wang Family Foundation. After Hexter left in 2005, funding from the campus ceased.

“There was no commitment or interest from the (new) Dean of Humanities at Cal to continue,” Cohen said in an email. “When there was an opportunity to move the Center to Stanford … it made sense to pursue it.”

Now, Cohen will receive funding from Stanford, where he has been a fellow at the Hoover Institution since 2009. Cohen founded the War Crimes Studies Center in 2000 and notes the extraordinary experience he’s had working with undergraduates on campus.

“We have been fortunate to have had so many talented students committed to human rights involved in our work. Our students have won 2 Marshall Scholarships, a Rhodes Scholarship, 2 Gardner Fellowships, 2 Stronach Prizes, and many Haas Scholarships,” Cohen said in an email.

Since 2000, the center had partnered with the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program on campus, sending students to Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Cambodia for fieldwork.

“My time with the UC Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center was one of my most important experiences at UC Berkeley,” said Rhodes Scholar and Berkeley alumnus Zarko Perovic. “It is a shame to see it move to Stanford.”

In 2010, the center offered UC Berkeley students opportunities to work within the International Criminal Court to assist with the development of its Legal Tools Database and to participate in the Virtual Tribunal project, a partnership of international criminal tribunals that set out to create a multimedia database accessible to citizens of Sierra Leone, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Ruzena Bajcsy, a campus electrical engineering and computer sciences professor who partnered with the center on the Virtual Tribunal project, said the project needed more funds.

“David had difficulty getting support, and he’s getting more support from Stanford. How can you blame him (for moving)?” Bajcsy said.

Cohen had hoped to sustain a center on campus in order to continue working with UC Berkeley students.

“Over the years, working with undergrads through URAP has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my 35 years at Berkeley,” Cohen said.

Contact Brennan MacLean at [email protected].