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Pinochet Prosecutor Co-Teaches Political Science Course

Castresana in 2011 at an event at Harvard Law School. CREDIT: Harvard University.
Castresana in 2011 at an event at Harvard Law School. CREDIT: Harvard University.

This semester, Haverford political science students won’t just read about international criminal justice, they’ll hear about it firsthand from a skilled practitioner.  Carlos Castresana, a prosecutor at the Spanish Supreme Court, is currently teaching two courses on international justice as part of the Political Science and Peace, Justice, and Human Rights departments.

Castresana has  also worked as a lawyer, judge, and magistrate. He first rose to international recognition in 1996 for filing the original complaints against dictators Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Rafael Videla of Argentina before the Spanish National Court for their crimes against humanity.

Castresana is best known for his time served as the Commissioner of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Castresana was appointed to this position in 2007 by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and served until 2010. While Commissioner of CICIG, Castresana played a key role in the case of Rodrigo Rosenberg. Rosenberg had caused a national uprising by recording a video prior to his assassination, in which he declared that President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala would be responsible if he was killed.

Castresana headed the CICIG investigation, which concluded that Rosenberg had staged his own murder in an attempt to end the President’s term. CICIG revealed that Rosenberg had hired the assassins himself, who were cousins of his ex-wife.

When asked to reflect on his time at CICIG, Castresana described it as having “a lot of political pressure, very dangerous.” He compared his task as Commissioner to that of Ethan Hunt’s in the movie Mission Impossible.

“I was probably hired because Tom Cruise was not available,” Castresana joked.

It was during his time as Commissioner of CICIG that Castresana first met Political Science professor Anita Isaacs in 2008.

“I was going to interview him about the role of the CICIG in trying to insure accountability for human rights violations,” Isaacs recalled. “It was a tricky topic, because this was not part of the mandate for CICIG.”

While Isaacs may have originally thought it was going to be a challenging meeting, she was pleasantly surprised with “a Latin kiss on both cheeks” upon first meeting Castresana.

“I was immediately struck by his courage, by his integrity, by his commitment, by his intellect, and I guess by his passion,” Isaacs said. “I knew that this was a very unique individual, one of those people who can really make a difference in the world – he was also an incredibly honorable person.”

After this first meeting, Isaacs and Castresana developed a friendship that remained strong over the years. When Castresana left his post as Commissioner of CICIG in 2010, Isaacs proposed the idea of  teaching a course on international criminal law at Haverford. Castresana, who taught international criminal law at the University of San Francisco from 2003 to 2005, was open to the idea.

“I got people to sign off on it here, and here he is,” said Isaacs.

Castresana is currently teaching two courses this semester: International Criminal Justice, a 200-level political science course, and Transitional Justice: The Politics of Accountability, a 300-level political science course which he is co-teaching with Professor Anita Isaacs.

“Maybe I am not a great theorist – I don’t pretend to be,” Castresana said while describing the courses, “but this mixture of experience and thinking makes, in my view, a very good product for students – a mixture of knowledge and experience.”

Isaacs agreed while elaborating on the different perspectives that the two professors have in teaching international criminal law.

“We share an interest in the topic and a commitment to human rights – this is a field where politics and the law intersect,” Isaacs explained. “Carlos comes at it from his own professional formation as a lawyer and a prosecutor. I come at transitional justice as a political scientist, as a scholar who has spent over a decade immersed in processes of peace building and accountability.”

While just a few weeks into the semester, Castresana’s and Isaac’s unique views seem to be marrying well together. Students such as Ariel Levin, class of 2014, has enjoyed her experience in the classroom thus far.

“Taking a class with someone who has as much hands-on experience as Carlos has been really exciting so far,” said Levin, a student in Castresana’s and Isaac’s Transitional Justice course. “While we haven’t had much opportunity yet to hear about his role in the CICIG and the extradition of Pinochet, I’m looking forward to learning more over the course of the semester.”

When asked if he had plans to teach at Haverford in future semesters, Castresana was quick to leave his options open.

“I went to San Francisco for a semester, I spent three years, so,” Castresana said. “My only priority is to give a very good class and have the students satisfied. I hope they will enjoy, they will learn, and they will improve as human beings.”

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