As a Classicist, David Cohen is one of the world's leading social and legal historians of ancient Greece. Two of Cohen's most influential books, Law, Sexuality and Society: The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens (1991) and Law, Violence and Community in Classical Athens (1995), had a profound impact on social and legal studies of Greece, arguing that the ancient Greek legal system was constructed as a means to codify shared male values and to reduce (but not replace) the role of violence in resolving conflicts.
Cohen, Director of the Handa Center, is also leading expert in the fields of human rights, international law and transitional justice. Cohen taught at UC Berkeley from 1979-2012 as the Ancker Distinguished Professor for the Humanities, and served as the founding Director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center, which moved to Stanford in 2013 and became the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice.
Cohen's research into war crimes tribunals began in the mid-1990's with a project to collect the records of the national war crimes programs conducted in approximately 20 countries in Europe and Asia after WWII. Since 2001, Cohen's work has largely focused on contemporary tribunals and transitional justice initiatives. Cohen has led justice sector reform initiatives and tribunal monitoring programs in Indonesia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Cambodia. At the regional level, Cohen has worked closely with the ASEAN Secretariat and the USAID Technical Facility to the ASEAN Secretariat in forming and leading an expert group to create a Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN. Cohen serves as the Advisor to the Executive Director and the Governing Board of the Resource Center and leads the Center’s research projects. Cohen also directs the Summer Institute in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, a regionally focused summer course held in Southeast Asia every year in partnership with a local institution.
Professor Cohen received his J.D. at UCLA’s School of Law, his Ph.D. in Classics and Ancient History from Cambridge University, and an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Zurich. He was also a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University since 2009.