Seeking Justice

Associate Professor of Political Science Jacqueline McAllister earns a research fellowship embedding her in the hunt for global war criminals.

By David Hoyt '14

The International Criminal Court (ICC), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, Netherlands, made headlines in March when it issued a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin due to alleged war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The chances of Putin appearing in a courtroom anytime soon are razor thin — but what does it mean for the ICC to take such an action, and what are more realistic ways of prosecuting war crimes and punishing the offenders? 

Those questions are areas of expertise for Associate Professor of Political Science Jacqueline McAllister, who teaches courses at Kenyon related to civil wars and failed states, human rights, and transitional justice. She will spend the next academic year in Washington, D.C., embedded in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) thanks to a fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent and nonpartisan think tank. 

The fellowship is “designed to help bridge the gap between theory and practice, or get professors and academics involved in the actual process of policymaking so that they can both contribute their expertise and learn what’s relevant, useful and important to policymakers,” McAllister said. “GCJ provides advice on issues related to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to the Secretary of State and other top diplomats. Additionally, it works to formulate U.S. policy on the prevention of, responses to and accountability for mass atrocities, and is responsible for implementing the War Crimes Rewards Program,” which offers incentives for information leading to the arrest of persons accused of crimes against humanity or genocide. 

According to McAllister, while the ICC and other international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia have had some success in prosecuting atrocity crime, international justice requires a great deal of global cooperation to work, and, in the case of Russia, such cooperation has been dubious at best. Moreover, Russia is not a member of the ICC, meaning it is not legally obligated to cooperate with the ICC. The U.S. also is not a member of the ICC, but “historically the U.S. has been a really huge proponent of trials and accountability for the worst of the worst crimes,” McAllister said.

However, much of McAllister’s work looks at how countries are able to hold war criminals to account within their own national justice systems. “The ICC was really designed to be a court of last resort [for] really bad [cases] that nobody else was either willing or capable of prosecuting,” she said. Rather, the creation of an international court was meant to incentivize nations to prosecute crimes within their borders. “The idea is, they’re not going to want some foreign court to do it, so that should create a motive for them to prosecute these cases on their own terms.” 

Ukrainian prosecutors have even been working to investigate atrocities as the conflict is ongoing. “Doing war time prosecutions is incredibly difficult, mainly because it’s really hard to get evidence and suspects, and protect witnesses and investigators,” McAllister said, noting that the majority of justice relating to the war in Ukraine will have to take place over the longer term. “But if they have the evidence they need, they're going for it.”

As a past winner of Kenyon’s Trustee Teaching Excellence Award, McAllister has always prioritized connecting her teaching to the most cutting-edge developments in her field, frequently using Twitter and other platforms to connect with fellow practitioners and get on-the-ground updates from various justice efforts around the world. “Academics, we get siloed, so it'll be really wonderful to get out and see what policymakers want to know about and then maybe that will lead to some new research pathways,” she said.

"In Professor McAllister, academic brilliance meets deep moral convictions and determination for a just future."

James Henderson '23

“This fellowship is a testament to the exceptional quality of Jackie’s research, and I am confident that it will further enhance her scholarship,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Abbie Erler, who chairs the department. “We are fortunate to have such an outstanding scholar and teacher among us, and I look forward to seeing the exciting developments that will result from this opportunity.”

Following the conclusion of the fellowship, McAllister hopes to incorporate her newfound knowledge and experience into a new course on international justice. “I think being in the State Department, seeing what policymakers care about, is going to be a really wonderful opportunity to design that class, and bring in things that they're reading or talking about, maybe even connect students with the people I meet on the fellowship.” McAllister also intends to continue collaborating with GCJ on research projects — with student co-authors — once she returns to campus.

“As a student in Professor McAllister’s Human Rights seminar, I was lucky to participate in discussions led by a real authority in the field. I came out of the class with a balanced and subtle understanding of human rights law,” said James Henderson ’23, a political science major from Evanston, Illinois. “In Professor McAllister, academic brilliance meets deep moral convictions and determination for a just future. She is just the kind of person I would want working to coordinate the U.S.’s response to human rights atrocities.”

“I look up to Professor McAllister on so many levels,” said Andrina Kirst ’25, an international studies major from Buffalo, New York. “Her research and breadth of knowledge is incredible, and yet her down-to-earth nature makes her very approachable. I appreciate her focus on diversifying the curriculum of international relations, as it is historically white, male and intimidating. She speaks candidly about being a woman in a male-dominated field, and about balancing her work and life as a mother. Professor McAllister is my biggest role model at Kenyon and I am so excited to hear that she has been granted this opportunity.”

Although research into war crimes and atrocities can be dark and draining, McAllister tries to remember the human impact of her career. “I’ve met a lot of victims in the past, and it just breaks your heart and never quite leaves you,” she said. “So the work I do, I try to do it for them. I want to honor them by doing the best work I can do.”