International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (The Hague, Netherlands)

IHRP Intern Benjamin Perrin (right) at the ICTY during a war crimes trial in The Hague
IHRP Intern Benjamin Perrin (right) at the ICTY during a war crimes trial in The Hague

After finishing my last exam of law school, I left for The Hague and have been working as an intern in Trial Chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  Being a part of this historical effort to bring persons allegedly responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law to justice has been a humbling and rewarding experience. 

Most of my work at the ICTY has centred on one of the ongoing trials that has raised many challenging legal issues, as well as five pre-trial cases that are at various stages of readiness.  It has been very enlightening to see part of the process that the judges go through in coming to their decisions, especially given the international composition of the court.  In discussions with the legal officers and one of the trial judges, we work through some of the issues that need to be resolved in the case and I help by providing research memos on some of the topics.  As a Canadian, I'm also often asked to help provide the common law position on issues that come up.

The pre-trial cases involve a great deal of responsibility and for that reason are very exciting to work on.  I have been able to write draft decisions on issues such as provisional release, and protective measures for victims and witnesses.  Often the judges will agree with the initial draft, sign the decision and then it is made.  More complicated decisions require further consultation, usually with the legal officers that assist the judges on a full-time basis.  There's always a lot of encouragement and support available - the ICTY is collegial and makes an effort to involve its interns in the real work of the Tribunal.

While most of my work is done outside of the courtrooms, I attend hearings in cases that I am working on and also sit in when there is something particularly interesting going on in another trial. Some of the more sobering moments have been hearing witness testimony in court about the events that allegedly took place in the former Yugoslavia.  Reading about these accounts is one thing, but hearing them in person has made it more real to me. 

International criminal law is a field that is developing rapidly, making this an exciting time to be a part of it.  Being at the heart of these international war crimes trials has really developed my understanding of the challenges faced in these prosecutions and their ongoing importance.