Student & Faculty Collaboration

Students Attend Terror Trial

Students Assist Lawyers of Victims of 2015 Paris Terror Attacks

During the 2021–22 academic year, students from AUP’s International Law class and the Justice Lab are joining Professor Sharon Weill from the Department of History and Politics in attending the trial of the perpetrators of the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks, which is taking place at Paris’s Palais de Justice. The initiative echoes a similar opportunity in October 2020, which saw students from Weill’s Law and Justice class attend the trial of the perpetrators of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In addition to attending court, four of Weill’s Spanish-speaking students are volunteering their time to support human rights lawyers who represent families of Spanish and Chilean victims of the November 13 attacks by translating the transcripts of trial proceedings into Spanish. This vital work sees students interacting with legal professionals and helps students build up a holistic picture of the intricacies and impacts of the French legal system. “I have found myself applying the theory I encountered in class in real-life scenarios,” explains Stephanie Bergon, an undergraduate student majoring in history, law and society with minors in international law and politics. “Doing so in a process that has and will mark history is even better.”

Professor Weill, who is part of a multidisciplinary public-interest research project financed by France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the French Ministry of Justice, has followed terror trials in France since 2017. She is regularly interviewed in the media, including for the Washington Post and Financial Times. Weill explains that the opportunity to attend the trial provides a unique perspective on how judicial theory is applied in practice. “They discover the entire process from within,” she says. Working directly with legal professionals in the translation of trial proceedings also gives students the possibility to leave their own mark on a trial of significant historical importance by helping victims’ families understand the judicial process. “Students have the opportunity to be productive and useful,” says Weill. As well as valuable legal experience, participating students receive a certificate from the legal firm attesting to the quality of their translation work.

Graduate student Yuliana Calvillo Solis explains that being exposed to the trial has helped her to better understand legal concepts, such as that of proportionality, which she has previously covered during her MA in Diplomacy and International Law. Reading testimony from the trial has provided her with a more personal perspective on certain legal topics, while assisting with her understanding of the material. It has also been an opportunity for her to appreciate the beauty and complexity of languages and how difficult it can be to capture the true meaning of words. “The biggest takeaway for me has been the importance of truth and forgiveness for the healing process,” she explains.

Ilka Rodriguez is also studying for the MA in Diplomacy and International Law. “Before starting the project, my knowledge was mostly based on the facts of the case and policy responses,” she says. “But studying the trial and working with lawyers helped me understand the intricacy behind every step of the judicial process.” The translation project has allowed Ilka to apply in-class material in a more pragmatic way while deepening her understanding of certain theoretical concepts and, in particular, how they affect real people in practice. “The experience has led to me becoming even more passionate about my career,” she says.

About the Justice Lab

AUP’s Justice Lab is an academic initiative falling under the remit of the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention that aims to bridge the gap between legal academia and practice in order to address global, regional and local legal challenges. By bringing together scholars, experts, lawyers, organizations and students, the Justice Lab encourages collaboration and supports a variety of projects and legal actions. For more information, see the Justice Lab website.