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Bringing Human Rights and Justice Scholars to W&M GOVT: An Interview with Professor Zvobgo

 Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Several times a month, the Government Department invites guests to talk about their latest research, publications, and projects. Students and faculty are welcome to attend these events. Professor Kelebogile Zvobgo has brought numerous guests to speak at the colloquium, including Dr. Francesca Parente, Dr. Monika Nalepa, Dr. Emily Hencken Ritter, Dr. Courtney Hillebrecht, and Dr. Carla Winston. Professor Zvobgo spoke to the Government Department regarding the incredible speakers she has brought in.

What inspired you to bring these speakers to campus?
It’s been a pleasure to host several pioneering political scientists this semester, as part of an ongoing effort by my lab, the International Justice Lab, to bring human rights, transitional justice, and international law scholars to campus for lectures, discussions, and networking with William & Mary students and faculty. I invited Drs. Hillebrecht, Nalepa, Parente, Hencken Ritter, and Winston because I admire their scholarship, which spans several pressing topics like the challenges facing international courts, obstacles to accountability for perpetrators of political violence, and gaps in compliance with women’s human rights. I also have tremendous respect for them as teachers, mentors, and colleagues – really, as people. They’re phenomenal.

Why do you think it’s important for students to go to these lectures given by outside speakers?
I think it’s important for students to be exposed to cutting-edge political science research via talks by visiting speakers like the ones we’ve hosted this semester – and, more generally, since we launched the International Justice Lab’s Nexus Speakers Series in 2019. It shows students what scholars besides their William & Mary professors are working on and what research fields (and career paths) are open to them. It’s also an opportunity for them to network with potential future graduate advisors, professors, and colleagues.

How does the research conducted by these speakers contribute to the work of scholars in the fields of human rights and transitional justice?
In a nutshell, our guest speakers ask pressing questions we don’t yet know the answers to. They develop new theories or build on existing theories in political science and construct innovative quantitative and qualitative data that they then analyze to test the theories. Scholars – and their scholarship – have an important role to play in advancing human rights. Compared to activists, practitioners, and policymakers, we have the luxury of time and institutional resources to rigorously study compliance and non-compliance with international human rights laws, frameworks, and principles. We are also professionally trained to do this work, leveraging diverse forms of data and applying innovative research methods and techniques to provide answers to those important questions. Based on our analyses and evidence, we can make recommendations – to activists about the advocacy strategies that seem to work best across different political contexts, to practitioners about how to best implement particular policies based on experiences in other countries, and to policymakers about the importance and benefits of delivering on their country’s human rights commitments.

How does the material in these lectures relate to your own academic interests? 
I work on similar topics as the scholars we’ve hosted. I know them from conferences, workshops, and professional associations. That’s how I was in a position to invite them to William & Mary.

Are there any speakers in particular that you hope to visit campus in the future? 
Yes, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

I will say, in closing, that I’m delighted to have Dr. Parente down the road at Christopher Newport. We’ve known each other for years, going back to our earliest days in graduate school in Los Angeles. Now both in Hampton Roads, we’ve teamed up to build unmatched human rights programming for undergraduates in the area. With me as director of the International Justice Lab and her as the director of the Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, we’re combining our contacts and institutional resources to bring these and other fantastic scholars. It’s great for them, too, because they get to present their work and receive feedback at not one but two universities. Lots more to come!