Dr. Cheah W.L. is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore (NUS). She holds academic qualifications from the National University of Singapore (LL.B., LL.M.), Harvard Law School (LL.M.), European University Institute, and Oxford University (D.Phil). She is a qualified lawyer (called to the New York Bar) and holds a diploma in arbitration (Queen Mary University of London).
Cheah W.L. conducts research in the core disciplines of international and comparative criminal law, transitional justice, and human rights with a focus on the intersections of law, culture, and power. Within these areas, her research explores the diverse and complex roles performed by domestic and international criminal courts beyond their paradigm aim of adjudicating on the guilt or otherwise of those charged with criminal offences.
Her work has been accepted for publication in journals such as the Leiden Journal of International Law, European Journal of International Law, Journal of International Criminal Justice, Human Rights Quarterly, Michigan Journal of International Law, Harvard Human Rights Journal, and International Journal of Law in Context. She is presently working on a book project on the Singapore war crimes trials and post-WWII justice. She also co-founded (with Ms Ng Pei Yi) of the Singapore War Crimes Trials Web Portal, which is kindly supported by Singapore National Heritage Board and Singapore Academy of Law. She has been awarded several research grants, such as the Humboldt University-NUS Research Collaboration Grant and the Singapore Judicial College Research Grant.
Among others, she currently holds editorial positions at the Journal of International Criminal Justice, Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies, and the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies. She serves on the Executive Council of the Asian Society of International Law (AsSIL) and is co-convenor of AsSIL’s Interest Group on International Criminal Law. She is also on the coordinating committee of the European Society of International Law’s Interest Group on International Criminal Law.
Cheah W.L. has received teaching awards from the NUS Law Faculty (2019/2020, 2018/2019, 2015/2016) and the NUS University Scholars Program (2015/2016). Her teaching experience includes periods at the Centre for Transnational Legal Studies (London, UK), Oxford University (UK), Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 (France), and the Royal University of Law and Economics (Cambodia).
Prior to joining academia, Cheah W.L. served as a Legal Officer at INTERPOL’s Office of Legal Affairs (Lyon, France). She has been invited to speak on the practical impact of her research by the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. In 2011, Cheah W.L. was a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court, and in 2018, she was awarded a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellowship at Melbourne Law School’s Laureate Program in International Law.
Cheah W.L.’s ongoing research examines how international law is particularized in different contexts, especially through courts and adjudication. In “Culture and International Criminal Law”, she explores international criminal law’s encounter of cultural difference. In “Culture-Specific Evidence before Internationalized Criminal Courts: Lessons from Asian Jurisdictions” (Journal of International Criminal Justice), she argues that a more sensitive judicial approach to culture-specific evidence may be cultivated if attention is given not only to the cultural knowledge of judges, but also the court’s broader legal architecture, the position of the accused, and judicial identity. In “CEDAW, Transforming Stereotypes, and Judicial Obligations: The ‘Provoked’ Killing of Women in India, Malaysia, and Singapore” (Human Rights Quarterly) and “CEDAW and Transformative Judicial Obligations: The Vulnerable Migrant Domestic Worker and Root Causes of Abuse” (forthcoming, Michigan Journal of International Law), she argues that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) requires domestic courts to adopt a transformative approach to adjudication that addresses the root causes of violence and exploitation experienced by women.
She is also studying the role of law and war crimes trials in the pursuit of justice and accountability after WWII. In “The Curious Case of the Singapore BIA Desertion Trials: War Crimes, Projects of Empire, and the Rule of Law (European Journal of International Law), she argues that though many war crimes trials organised in Asia were intended to facilitate the return of colonial rule, the trials’ rule of law dynamics nevertheless resulted in unexpected acquittals and non-confirmations. In her earlier article “Culture and Understanding in in the Singapore War Crimes Trials (1946-1948): Interpreting Arguments of the Defence” (International Journal of Law in Context), Cheah W.L. analyses the many contestations and divergent interpretations of legal concepts and arguments at trial, all of which complicated rather than clarified questions of accountability. She has written a series of articles about post-WWII trials and the post-WWII search for accountability. In “British War Crimes Trials in Europe and Asia (1945-1949) – A Comparative Study” (Leiden Journal of International Law), Cheah W.L. and Moritz Vormbaum compare post-WWII trials in Germany and Singapore with the aim of identifying and assessing factors shaping these trials.
Her broader research interests lie in studying how individuals and groups pursue accountability for human rights violations through local and global processes. In “The Limits and Potential of Peoples’ Tribunals as Legal Actors: Revisiting the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal” (forthcoming, Transnational Legal Theory) and “Walking the Long Road in Solidarity and Hope: A Case Study of the ‘Comfort Women’ Movement’s Deployment of Human Rights Discourse” (Harvard Human Rights Journal), she examines the ‘comfort women’ movement’s creative use of domestic, regional and international forums to seek accountability for international sex crimes committed by the Japanese military.
Click here for a complete CV and list of Cheah W.L.’s publications: 220708_CV_CHEAH W