Four Shell Casings and an Honorary Degree

Four Shell Casings and an Honorary Degree

In 1993, Sarajevo was the capital of newly independent Croatia and it was occupied by Serb paramilitary forces.

The four shell casings on this plaque prompt the viewer with many questions: what do they symbolize, who created it, and why did DePaul Emeritus Professor of Law M. Cherif Bassiouni have it?  We can only pose possible answers to the above questions; however, we do know that this plaque represents two things. On the one hand, it memorializes the massive loss of life incurred throughout the former Yugoslavia during the Third Balkan War of the 1990s.  On the other hand, it signifies when and where Bassiouni, who was at the time President of the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul University, led a team of researchers to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the war crimes taking place.  After hundreds of hours of dangerous research, the information that Bassiouni and the IHRLI collected was presented to the United Nations Commission of Experts, a group that Bassiouni oversaw as the Special Rapporteur.  Many scholars of the Yugoslav civil war describe Bassiouni as an integral force in the investigation of mass graves and other human rights violations; historian John Allcock suggests that “a great deal of eventual success was owed to Bassiouni’s personal dedication and hard work in overcoming problems posed by the inadequacy of the resources placed at its disposal and the lack of cooperation from relevant parties.”   Because of the efforts of the IHRLI, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was created.

This honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was awarded to Bassiouni in 1997 because he “stood among corpses in mass graves [of the former Yugoslavia] and dodged sniper fire.  He has confronted the bureaucratic maze of the United Nations and challenged the President of the United States. […] Despite immense obstacles and great personal risk, and with little support…”  Bassiouni has been awarded several other honorary degrees from institutions in the U.S. as well as overseas.

In addition to his work in the former Yugoslavia, Cherif Bassiouni was DePaul University’s first Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 1999.  Bassiouni has also championed a few major areas of international law: the formation of an international criminal court (ICC) and recognizing mass rape not only as a violation of human rights but as a punishable war crime.  His manuscript collection, from which the two objects above were selected, contains records of his work with dozens of organizations such as the IHRLI, the United Nations, and various United States departments/agencies. The collection has an extensive series of articles that Bassiouni authored on a wide range of international law topics: narcotics, the ICC, mass rape, and genocide.

The M. Cherif Bassiouni Papers is not only a valuable collection when researching the actions of the UN during/after the destruction of Yugoslavia, but also an extensive archive of humanitarian efforts against war crimes, the IHRLI’s promotion of legal education in the Middle East, and pro-international criminal court publications written by Bassiouni.  For additional information about materials from the M. Cherif Bassiouni Papers  used in this blog, contact Special Collections and Archives at or stop by our department in the John T. Richardson Library, Room 314.

Note: Matt Morley ’15 processed the M. Cherif Bassiouni Papers while working as a student assistant in Special Collections and Archives.  He later conducted further research in this collection for his Honors 301: Migration and Ethnicity in Post-World War II Europe course, and presented his paper Civil War or Genocide?: The United Nations’ Misunderstanding of the Third Balkan War in the 1990s  at the 2015 Student History Conference.

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