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Justice for All; Rachel L. Williams '03
Read more about Rachel Williams in Global Citizen, an e-newsletter presented by the International Relations Program.
Photo courtesy of Rachel L. Williams '03
A deep and abiding concern for justice put Rachel L. Williams '03 in the position of helping to defend men accused of the gravest of injustices: genocide and crimes against humanity.
The place: The Hague, the Netherlands, with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The time: 2007-2008.
The case: the largest mass murder since World War II, the slaughter of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, by forces of the Serbian Army, the VRS, in 1995.
Williams, who earned a law degree in 2007 from Florida Coastal University School of Law, was a legal assistant in the case of Prosecutor v. Popovic, et al, helping defend Ljubisa Beara, a colonel and chief of security in the VRS. While there she traveled to Belgrade, Serbia, and experienced firsthand the festering hatreds. "Some people are still very nationalistic," she said. "They see the criminals as war heroes."
For others, the heinousness of the crimes — murdering civilians, including the elderly and very young, and raping women and girls as part of a hate campaign — inspired only vengefulness."They want to know, 'How can you represent a monster?' " she said.
But Williams sees injustice as the ultimate monster: "Instead of immediate battlefield justice, make them accountable," she said.
The Kutztown native credits her parents, Ruth Fisher and Greg Williams, and her stepfather, James Steber, for instilling in her a thirst for justice, and she is quick to express gratitude that she had "knowledgeable and patient people to help me throughout high school, college and law school."
"Albright was a major catalyst for me," she said.
The first major influence was Philip A. Eyrich '58, a political science professor who died in 2001. She recalled warmly how, "Headlines, theories of international relations — he put it all together. He made it a priority to show how it affects us.
Another political science professor, Theresa C. Smith, Ph.D., proved to be a powerful influence as well. "I had her almost every semester for three years," Williams enthused. "The experience was phenomenal, and her background was so amazing."
In spring of 2003, she studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. Through a Kent State University program, Williams did research for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
In summer 2006, she interned with the ICTY, in The Hague, for the defense team in Prosecutor v. Prlic, et al.
Williams earned a juris doctor degree with certification in international and comparative law from Florida Coastal School of Law in May 2007, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar that year.
In 2008, she became an assistant public defender in York County. Later that year, she took her place on the other side of court, as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia handling felony cases and prosecuting major drug dealers.
Whether as prosecutor or defender, her passion, she said, "is giving a voice to those who don't have a voice — to the victims of crime, to those accused of the most heinous crimes.
"In order for us to have a high quality of justice, they all need to have a voice."
–Félix Alfonso Pena