Diary of an intern
A Journal from Inside
The Hague War Crimes Tribunal
This summer, Benjamin Perrin (BComm’01),
who was the first recipient of the Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD)
Award that honours outstanding young alumni, worked as
a legal intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia. Perrin had just finished law school at
the University of Toronto. He kept a journal to record his experience
May 3, 2005 Arrival in Holland
After finishing my last exam of law school, I packed my bags
and arrived yesterday in the Netherlands. It’s hard to believe
that I’m finally in The Hague, almost a year after deciding that
I wanted to work this summer at the International Criminal Tribunal for
the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The internship program includes university
students and recent grads from law, political science, international
relations, and other social sciences. As the tribunal enters its final
years, I wanted to see it for myself, learn something practical about
international prosecutions and hopefully contribute something to it.
Three of my flat-mates are interns at the ICTY as well, and one is
working for the International Criminal Court. They’re from Switzerland,
France, Russia, and the United States. I’m excited about starting,
but have a few days to settle into life in Holland.
May 7 Liberation parade in Apeldoorn
Fifteen hundred veterans, 200 vintage WWII vehicles, some fries with
mayonnaise, lots of rain, thousands of Canadian flags, and tens of thousands
of Dutch people = the 60th anniversary of liberation day in Apeldoorn.
The parade started with a fly-by of a dozen restored WWII airplanes,
including a Lancaster bomber, some Spitfires, and Mustangs. Canadian
veterans—who liberated this city and are now 80 to 90 years old
or more—marched, walked, and rode by
in the trucks, jeeps, and tanks that were used to liberate Holland from
the Nazis, and they’re still kept in working condition. This is
likely the last time many of these veterans will be able to make this
trip. I only wish my grandfather, who fought with the Allies in Europe,
was alive to see this.
The most memorable moment came when one of the oldest and most decorated
veterans stopped his wheelchair in front of the bandstand. All eyes were
on him as the parade ground to a halt. With difficulty, he stood and
rose straight to attention, raising his arm in a rigid salute to the
Dutch Princess and our Governor-General. After he sat down, the entire
crowd erupted in applause.
The Canadians around me started singing “O
Canada,” and we all joined in. At that moment, there probably wasn’t
a dry eye in Apeldoorn.
May 15 First week inside The Hague tribunal
My first week at the ICTY has the summer off to a great start. After
meeting the legal officers and some of the judges in our trial chamber,
I started working on one of several pre-trial cases. After an accused
arrives in The Hague, he
is brought before a judge for an “initial appearance,” where
the charges are read, and then he is asked to enter a plea. Some plead
guilty, and although this is a fairly rare occurrence, the judge needs
to be ready if this happens, so I wrote a memo for him on the procedure
to be followed.
All accused are provided with a lawyer,
and only a few have chosen to represent themselves, notably Slobodan
Milosevic, the former president of Serbia. It was surreal to sit just
a few metres from him as he questioned a witness during his trial this
week. This formerly powerful man was now humbled, brought to this court
to be held accountable for the suffering and atrocities he is alleged
to have committed.
June 10 Protection for witnesses and victims
This week I was asked to draft my first decision on my own for the
judges. The judges rely on their interns and legal officers to help them
us first crack at a draft. They then give us their feedback. I’m
excited to have been given the chance to write it and wonder if he’ll
agree with what I write.
The prosecution is asking the trial chamber to order a range of measures
to protect victims and potential witnesses. The Tribunal has broad
powers to order the non-disclosure of the identity or whereabouts of
give them pseudonyms, allow them to testify at trial with voice or
image distortion, and so on. The difficulty is balancing the rights of
accused to know the case they have to meet with the need to protect
the privacy and safety of vulnerable victims or witnesses.
After going over the files again and making several trips to the Tribunal’s
library, I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and start writing.
Without being told how the judges would like to decide the motion, I
write this on my own.
In a week, I’ll be back in Canada for my graduation from law school
at the University of Toronto. My parents and girlfriend are going to
be there, and I can’t wait to see them again.
June 28 Trials and tribulations
Since coming back from a few days in Canada, I found out that the judges
agree with the protective measures draft decision that I wrote, and they
signed it as is. That must mean I am on the right track and learned something
during law school! Since then, I’ve been able to draft another
couple of decisions, including one on provisional release (i.e. bail).
This one would’ve been much more difficult if the judges hadn’t
given direction on how they wanted it decided. The decision would either
release the accused on conditions to his hometown, or keep him locked
in the detention unit until he is brought to trial.
I’ve also been working with one of the judges on a trial that is
ongoing. For the most part, it has been legal research and writing memos
on certain issues that the trial chamber will have to decide. The judge
calls me into his office every few days, and we discuss issues that need
extra attention. It was intimidating at first, working directly with
a judge, but I’ve gotten more confident and find we get along quite
However, it’s because of this case that I’m having trouble
sleeping tonight. Earlier today, I realized when I was talking on the
phone to one of the legal officers on the case that words like “murder,” “torture,” “beatings,” and “beheading” were
rolling off my tongue without a second thought. One of the new interns
in our office must’ve been listening, because I noticed her staring
at me in shock, and the meaning of what I was saying hit me hard.
Now, sitting in bed with the window open, I wonder if focusing on abstract
legal issues has removed me too far from being horrified by the alleged
atrocities that are the reason the tribunal was created. Thankfully,
the time change made it possible for me to call home to Canada earlier
to hear the voice of my girlfriend and parents — that always makes
me feel better.
July 16 Weekend voyages
Since this is my first time in Europe, I’ve been taking some weekend
trips in and around the Netherlands by myself and with other interns.
Aside from the cheese shops, windmills, clogs, and canals, Holland has
a lot more to see than I expected. One weekend was a blues festival in
Utrecht, another was an Air Show in Rotterdam. And I’ve been to
rally car races in Germany and Belgium. Compared to Canada, everything’s
so close together in Europe!
Today, I’m on a long-weekend visit to London; a trip I’ve
been planning for a little while. My trip was scheduled for exactly a
week after the London Bombings of July 7. After days of thinking about
cancelling my tickets, I finally decided to go. While security everywhere
is tight, including metal detectors at the museums and art galleries,
people are still friendly, and I’m keen to see everything I can.
The highlights are a free outdoor concert by the London Symphony Orchestra
at Canary Wharf and a play at the remade Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
on the Thames.
July 30 Getting through a mountain of evidence and seeing it through
I finished poring over thousands of pages of evidence in the trial that
I’m working on, and I’ve finally finished making sense of
it in a memo for one of the judges. It was hard work, and at times monotonous,
but it’ll be important during the deliberations. There is still
a lot to be done before the judgment is written, and I wish that I could
be here to see it through.
With one week left in my internship, I’ve been thinking about how
much I’ve learned in the past three months and what I think of
the tribunal. Over the last dozen years, the ICTY has created a whole
legal world of its own through hundreds of decisions, and it’s
helped bring people to justice who never imagined that the international
community would have the resolve to prosecute them. It has its detractors,
but I find it heartening to see the dedication of the people working
here to achieve this admirable objective on a scale never before seen.
This article represents the personal views of the author only and is
not on behalf of the United Nations or the ICTY.
This fall, Perrin is starting his Master of Laws at McGill University,
after which he is articling at the Supreme Court of Canada.
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