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Global studies student blazes through UCLA, heads for career in international law“ It's the job of my generation... to make the institutions [of international justice] work better and make our own contributions to this century-long process of trying to fight the worst instincts of humanity,” said graduating senior Mischa Gureghian Hall. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Global studies student blazes through UCLA, heads for career in international law

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

Mischa Gureghian Hall finished his B.A. in three, jam-packed years and soon heads to Oxford University, where he will do a law degree.

UCLA International Institute, June 13, 2024Global studies senior Mischa Gureghian Hall caught the law bug during the summer between high school and college.

“The actual thing that prompted me was when President Biden recognized the Armenian Genocide,” he said. “But it wasn’t recognition in the legal definition of the term because it occurred before 1952, when the Genocide Convention entered into force. You can’t retroactively apply conventions.” (The Armenian Genocide took place from roughly 1915 through 1923.)

He spent the summer after his high school graduation “down a rabbit hole” of (online) research to write a 100-page paper arguing that the Genocide Convention would be applicable.

“I found out later that a lot of my arguments were incorrect,” he said ruefully. “I also missed a single case from the International Court of Justice in 2009, where Italy had made a very similar argument in trying to enforce a judgment against Germany for World War II–era damages related to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Italy lost the case, but Gureghian Hall found it rewarding to discover that serious legal professionals had developed an argument analogous to the one he had outlined in his paper.

Building experience in legal research and practice

The tall, gregarious senior began his UCLA education in fall 2021 and will complete his B.A. this June, after only three years study. He spent the past year researching and writing his global studies senior thesis on proposed judicial models for prosecuting the crime of aggression in Ukraine, with financial support from a prestigious UCLA/ Keck Humanistic Inquiry Undergraduate Research Award.

Three major projects have absorbed the lion’s share of his time at UCLA: the freshman cluster course, Political Violence in the Modern World; the UCLA Undergraduate Law Journal; and the Los Angeles legal nonprofit, Center for Truth and Justice. And yes, he also found time to fulfill his graduation requirements and even published blog posts on Opinio Juris, Völkerrechtsblog (Part I and Part II) and EJIL:Talk! (blog of the European Journal of International Law).

As a freshman, Gureghian Hall registered for the yearlong Political Violence cluster course because it aligned with his interests and fulfilled multiple UCLA general education, writing and diversity requirements.

“[The course] is essentially taught more or less as comparative genocide studies: three case studies of modern political violence,” he said. “The Holocaust is a recurring case study and the other cases switch based on faculty availability. When I took it, [the cases were] the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide and French colonialism in Algeria.”

For the next two years, he worked as the designated writing specialist for the course, liaising with the teaching team and providing the freshman students peer assistance in writing and research. “In hindsight, it was a very formative experience,” he reflected. Gureghian Hall worked closely with UCLA historian Jared McBride, who served as the coordinating faculty member for the course for all three years, and became a research assistant for him.

The UCLA Undergraduate Law Journal, where the Bruin student began as a writer and rose to editor-in chief, has been the second locus of his time and energy.

“Of course I may be hyping it, but we have a superior quality journal, compared to other undergraduate legal publications, because of our editorial process,” he said. The journal employs an intensive, two quarter–long editing process in which a paired writer and editor go through five rounds of review, with input from the senior editors on the editorial board.

“It’s a bittersweet moment as we prepare to send Volume 23 off to publication,” he said of the last journal volume on which he will work.

The aspiring lawyer’s volunteer work for the local nonprofit, Center for Truth and Justice, was his third major focus as a UCLA student. That work gave him perhaps the most valuable experiences of his undergraduate years: documenting and filing evidence with international human rights bodies on violations of international law.

The center was created by practicing attorneys in LA to document the testimony of Armenian victims in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh among Armenians. In August 2022, Gureghian Hall accompanied Center for Truth and Justice members to Geneva, where they presented a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the conflict.

In April 2024, he traveled to both The Hague and Geneva for the center. “It was an absolutely incredible two weeks. I spent the first half of the first week watching an International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearing in Armenia v. Azerbaijan, and the second half of that week helping the center file its first communication regarding Armenia with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

In the second week of the trip, he went to Geneva as one of a four-person delegation to present a report to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva. “We had submitted a third-party nongovernmental organization report to that committee and had been invited to come and present on it — which was wow!”

Gureghian has traveled to Europe and Armenia at least seven times as an undergraduate. In addition to his trips for the Center for Truth and Justice, he has presented research papers at legal conferences in Germany and Italy; conducted research in Armenia as part of a student research fellowship with the University Network for Human Rights, supported by the UCLA Promise Institute for Human Rights; and attended the 2023 Global Studies Summer Travel Study Program in The Hague, “The Global Governance of Human Rights.”

Looking ahead

Gureghian Hall is now focused on his next step: a law degree at the University of Oxford and, eventually, becoming a barrister in the UK.

“On a personal level, I like living and working in the UK and Europe… and because I was born in the UK, I have the privilege of being able to live there in a permanent capacity. But I also wanted to be closer to the intersection of the study and practice of international law, as so many scholars who are also practitioners in the field are there, as well as closer to the actual institutions I have been working with [that is, the ICC and ICJ].”

The soon-to-graduate senior has a distinctly non-utopian view of international law and human rights.“The century-long project of international humanitarian law has seen slow, but steady, progressive success. Not a total success, but progress in making wars more human and emphasizing law where there was chaos,” he said.

“It’s important that we don’t let that fight be thrown off simply because there are belligerent states that don’t respect life. It’s matter of enforcing those laws against the people who break them and not throwing one’s hands up and declaring the futility of the law because someone has violated it.

“It’s a long process and it’s a process that needs work, and there needs to be someone to do that work. It’s the job of my generation — especially as we’ve grown up seeing these things on our phones in ways that no generation has before — to make these institutions work better and make our own contributions to this century-long process of trying to fight the worst instincts of humanity.”