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: Alumna Achievement Award.
“This is an extreme honor for me,” Fisher said during a ceremony before the State of the Colleges address. “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. When people ask me where did I grow up? It’s at William Smith College.”
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.
The Alumna Achievement Award was presented in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center; President of the William Smith Alumnae Association Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk ’98 offered Fisher’s introduction and President Mark D. Gearan gave welcoming remarks.
“The Alumna Achievement Award is given to an alumna who by reason of her outstanding accomplishments in her particular business, profession or for community service has brought great honor and distinction to her alma mater,” Jarmoszuk said.
During her reflections, Fisher said the Colleges were the spring board for the rest of her life and that returning among fellow alumnae and alumni at Reunion to receive the Alumna Achievement Award was a truly special moment.
“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.”
Fisher said she received so much more than an outstanding liberal arts education from the Colleges. “I also received the goals and the values and the humanity, which have helped me through my life journey,” Fisher said.
She also thanked the Colleges for being the place where she connected with her husband, Gregg ’70.
In the fall, Fisher will return to Hobart and William Smith to take part in a campus discussion about international law and international criminal law. She hopes to encourage students to enter the field.
“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 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 her B.A. from HWS, her J.D. from the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, and her 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 has lectured on international law, and has been involved in international judicial education and judicial institution building since 1993. She was one of eight experts who prepared and presented the Expert Initiative on Promoting Effectiveness at the International Criminal Court, the Report from which was publically released in December 2014. 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.