George Kun Jr. '01

Washington, D.C.

That George Kun is alive today is something of a miracle. He is a citizen of Liberia, a country unique among African nations, due to its roots as a colony formed in 1822 by freed slaves and a government grounded in democracy. In 1980, however, a military coup brought an end to Africa’s first republic igniting violence and civil war.

George’s journey to America began in 1990, when warlord Charles Taylor’s soldiers came to George’s home to kill his father, as his mother pleaded and George looked on. He was 13 years old. George and his mother were arrested and imprisoned, but escaped to begin their lives as refugees. At 15, George took his first job... working on an ambulance crew for Doctors Without Borders, transporting soldiers from the battlefield to the relief hospital... and collecting dead bodies at the end of each day. For his work he received rice and other food to support his mother and three sisters. For four years, George was witness to unspeakable acts of brutality and in 1996, when George says, “the killing became too much,” the family left their native land.

From a refugee camp in Ghana, George’s mother wrote a desperate letter to a friend living in the U.S., begging her to take George in. The friend obliged, but George knew it was highly unlikely his visa would be accepted because so many of the young men his age were involved in the killing in Liberia. Miraculously, his passport was stamped. Upon his arrival to the U.S., an immigration official asked, “Where is your bag?” He did not have one.

Encouraged by a counselor to apply to Luther, a college known for welcoming international students, he boarded a bus to Iowa with great faith, four notebooks, and ten dollars in his pocket.

A political science and international studies major, he played soccer and ran track, coached youth soccer, wrote for CHIPS, and was president of the International Student Association. In his junior year, George was the first international student to study in Luther’s Nottingham Program. In his senior year he was selected to introduce the keynote speaker at the Peace Prize Forum, Morten Rostrup, international president of Doctors Without Borders, the 1999 Nobel laureate.

Since then, George has earned a master’s degree in international affairs from American University, a law degree from Cambridge University in England (where he was editor of the Student Law Review), and a second master’s degree in international criminal law from Vanderbilt University. It was there where he also worked in the International Criminal Law Clinic writing indictments for potential war criminals in Liberia, and on the Charging Committee for the Liberian Working Group to establish a special United Nations court. He has worked as a McCall-Pierpaoli Fellow with Refugees International, as a legal intern for the Agricultural Research Forum in Africa, and as an associate for Bioversity International in Rome. He serves on the International Advisory Board for Global Majority, and is a member of Amnesty International.

By focusing his studies on the issues that have had such a profound impact on his family and country, George has become an expert in refugee and asylum law.  He has appeared on Fox News, the BBC, and NPR. George has served in Iraq with the State Department as part of the Iraq Justice Reform Project helping design and implement the new Iraqi justice system, training judges, drafting indictments for war criminals and designing security measures for witnesses and court facilities. He is currently an adviser and analyst with the United States National Support Element at NATO headquarters in Afghanistan.

He aspires to return to Liberia to aid his country’s return to democracy and dreams of one day becoming its president.

George (Kun) Koon '01