Justice Fisher Receives Highest Honor

The Hon. Shireen Avis Fisher ’70

by Steven Bodnar

During Reunion 2015, The Hon. Shireen Avis Fisher ’70, Justice of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, was awarded the highest and most prestigious honor bestowed by the William Smith Alumnae Association: the Alumna Achievement Award.

“This is an extreme honor for me,” Fisher said during the ceremony. “It is so important to me because it’s being bestowed to me by my alma mater, William Smith, which is, and has been, my spiritual home. It is the place that over four years, I went from being an adolescent to a grown up.”

As Justice of the Residual Special Court, Fisher presided over the appeal of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the first sitting Head of State to be charged in an International Court with violation of international criminal law. She affirmed his conviction for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed by rebels during Sierra Leone’s civil war.

“For her willingness to face humanity’s most atrocious crimes, for her dedication to seeking justice for those whose voices have been silenced through violence and war, and for her innate integrity and keen intelligence that have shaped international law, we honor Justice Fisher today,” said President of the William Smith Alumnae Association Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk ’98, who with President Mark D. Gearan presented the award.

During her reflections, Fisher said the Colleges were the spring board for the rest of her life.

“To receive this honor from a school that means so much to me is deeply, deeply humbling,” Fisher said. “On the journey I have taken, I have held William Smith closely in my heart. It is where I received the goals and the values and the humanity, which have helped me through my life journey.”

She also thanked the Colleges for being the place where she connected with her husband, Gregg Fisher ’70.

Justice Fisher will return to Hobart and William Smith on Sept. 21, 2015 as a President’s Forum speaker, when she will lead a campus discussion about internatinal law and international criminal law.

“The fight against impunity must be made even though it is an endless one; even though it does not prevent wars or war crimes or crimes against humanity, we cannot sit by and do nothing,” Fisher said.

During her career, Fisher served as an Appeals Judge at the Special Court for Sierra Leone from 2009 through 2013, and as its president in 2012 and 2013. Following her appeal of the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, she wrote a concurring opinion which has been credited with clarifying the essential elements of aiding and abetting liability in international criminal law.

Fisher served previously as an International Judge of the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where from 2005 through 2008 she adjudicated cases involving allegations of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide arising out of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Between 2008 and 2009 she served as a Commissioner on the Kosovo Independent Judicial and Prosecutorial Commission. Called to the State and Federal Bar in 1976, Fisher was appointed to the Bench of the U.S. State of Vermont in 1986. She represented the International Association of Women Judges from 2002 through 2012 and was as an independent expert to the Hague Conference on Private International Law, participating in Special Sessions for the drafting and review of Hague Treaties on international family law.

Fisher received a B.A. from William Smith, J.D. from the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, and LLM in International Human Rights Law from University College London. In December 2014 she was awarded a Ph.D. in International Law from University College London. She is the 2014 recipient of the Global Justice of the Year Award, presented by Northwestern University School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights.


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