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Randle DeFalco ’09, Fulbright Fellow

Randle DeFalco has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to pursue potentially ground-breaking research in international human rights law. As a Fulbright Fellow, DeFalco will return to Phnom Penh, where he spent the summer of 2008 as a legal associate at the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), to study how the actions of regimes and paramilitary groups that cause civilians to be starved can be properly accounted for criminally. He will use the Khmer Rouge, under whose leadership at least 1.7 million Cambodians were tortured and killed between 1975 and 1979, as a case study.

“A prosecution predicated on starvation would be a first in international law,” notes DeFalco, “and set an important precedent in developing human rights laws aimed at protecting civilians. Starvation is a major humanitarian issue and has been the unfortunate, yet constant, companion of conflict throughout history and to this day. It is imperative that all of humanity legally condemn those who cause or ignore widespread starvation in order to progress towards a world free of this horror. A prosecution at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal would be an important step in this direction and would provide accountability to the Cambodian people.”

Randle DeFalco 
Randle DeFalco talks with a Cambodian in the country’s Anlong Veng district as the man’s wife is interviewed by DC-Cam staff about Khmer Rouge atrocities.
In September, DeFalco will begin about 10 months of independent research in Cambodia. He will again be based at the headquarters of DC-Cam, the non-profit dedicated to preserving the history of the Khmer Rouge and to compiling information for potential evidence in a legal accounting for its crimes. As a 2008 recipient of a summer grant from the Rutgers Public Interest Law Foundation, DeFalco, among other activities, conducted legal research for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the ECCC was created to put Khmer Rouge leaders on trial for crimes against humanity. His work culminated with his co-authoring an extensive legal research paper on two critical issues of law that will be contentious at the Tribunal. The paper was used extensively in submissions to the Tribunal by the Office of the Co-Prosecutors. He left Cambodia with the desire to contribute to the Tribunal on a deeper level.

While at DC-Cam, DeFalco participated in the organization’s extensive fieldwork, aimed at involving the larger Cambodian population in the ongoing legal process and providing a historical record for future generations. Hearing the stories of survivors, DeFalco recalls, “For many, memories of starvation are the most haunting and persistent. A common question from survivors is whether the ECCC will prosecute anyone for the widespread starvation that the Khmer Rouge caused.”

The Fulbright Fellowship is immensely important to DeFalco for both personal and professional reasons. “Personally,” he explains, “the research will give me a way to use my legal education to provide an important service to the Cambodian people, who are still addressing the difficulties that face post-conflict nations and yet welcomed me so warmly during my short time there.”

With his sights set on a career in public international law and human rights, DeFalco welcomes the opportunity to build on both his legal studies and his extensive public interest experience. Furthermore, the research will represent a significant addition to the body of international law criminalizing the abuse of civilians. “To be able to make such a contribution is extremely gratifying and will help me to realize my professional goal of working for the betterment of humanity through the pursuit of international justice.”

DeFalco, a native of Ontario, Canada, with a long-time interest in international issues and human rights, received a B.A. in global history from a New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers–Newark joint degree program. At Rutgers Law School’s May 2009 commencement, his demonstrated leadership in public service activities was recognized when he was awarded the Eli Jarmel Memorial Prize as the student with the greatest interest and proficiency in public interest law. To cite just two examples: As a student in the Constitutional Litigation Clinic, he led a team of students in a voter registration initiative to assist eligible prisoners to vote in the 2008 presidential election and contributed to a report on military recruiting practices at public high schools in New Jersey.

DeFalco’s volunteer efforts include helping New Orleans public housing residents secure shelter in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; conducting research for Advocates for Environmental Human Rights on the rights of the residents of Mossville, LA, a historically important African-American community that has suffered environmental degradation and related health problems from nearby industry; and mentoring youths and conducting basketball clinics in Newark.

The emphasis on public interest law and community involvement that characterizes Rutgers School of Law–Newark was an important consideration in DeFalco’s decision to transfer to the law school. Three distinct experiences at Rutgers helped to further his commitment to public service. From Professor Karima Bennoune’s International Law class and her expertise in international legal and human rights issues, he found an area of the law that he knew would be rewarding. Participating in the Constitutional Litigation Clinic under Professors Frank Askin and Penny Venetis demonstrated how law could be used to effect social change and advance the public interest. Finally, DeFalco acknowledges the inspiration he draws from Professor Emeritus Saul Mendlovitz, whose Law and Humanities seminars and generous mentorship provided him with a humanistic global perspective – essential to his goal of practicing public international law.