Discovering an Emerging World of Law in War Crimes Court

Author: 
Lynn Safranek

In 2006, Théoneste Bagosora was a retired colonel and former chief of staff in Rwanda's defense ministry. He also was the highest-ranking military authority accused of promoting the 1994 mass killing of an estimated 800,000 people.

Allison Stowell, formerly Benne, was a former associate news producer from St. Louis inspired to study law by the desire to have a more direct impact on the world. In 2006, she finished her first year at the University of Chicago Law School.

That their paths would cross seems far-fetched, even impossible. But Stowell, '08, found an opportunity through the Law School that made it possible for her to be a part of the court that found Bagosora responsible for authorizing acts of genocide.

Though the Law School has no formal partnership with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), each year since 2002 one or more students, mostly first-years, have been selected to participate in its summer internship program. Students like Stowell travel to Arusha, Tanzania, for the summer and spend their days researching issues that come before the court. This unique experience has been shared by eleven Law students, thus far.

"The Law School has some momentum with the Rwanda Tribunal. Our students have great experiences interning and they're eager to encourage more students to apply when they return from Tanzania," said Lois Casaleggi, Senior Director in the Office of Career Services. "The Tribunal also has had good experiences with our students.The Chicago Law applicants stand out because the Tribunal knows our students do good work."

In addition to the Rwanda internships, two Chicago Law alumni currently are working on the staffs of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals. Those alumni and those who have interned on the Rwanda Tribunal share a common interest in international human rights, an area of law that has long appealed to Chicago Law students.

Student interest in the Tribunals also dovetails with the Law School's pursuit of opportunities for students in human rights internships. Assistant Professor Rosalind Dixon started an International Human Rights Internship Program two years ago that places first- and second-year students in internships in Australia, India, and South Africa. Students work with organizations that tackle diverse issues, such as women's rights, Aboriginal empowerment, prison reform, and media freedom.

"We're looking for new partnerships with human rights organizations so the Law School can expand the International Human Rights Internship Program," Casaleggi said. "Last summer students worked for organizations on three different continents. This is invaluable experience that could shape the courses of their lives."

International law, in general, is gaining strength at the Law School with the recent addition of several faculty members who specialize in the area. Among the many facets of international law, their areas of experience include European Union law, international antitrust law, and comparative constitutional law, and they are researching topics such as the enforcement of climate treaties and the political economy of socioeconomic rights. Their addition to the faculty has provided students even greater resources for learning about complex international law issues.

When Matt McCarthy, '08, was a student at the Law School, he fostered his interest in international law by reviving the dormant International Law Society. He is now an Associate Legal Officer for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). He lives in the Netherlands and serves on a staff of lawyers working for a panel of trial judges at The Hague. The Tribunal handles cases related to war crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990s.

McCarthy knew early in law school that he wanted to pursue a career in international law. To cultivate that interest, McCarthy and the rest of the International Law Society invited speakers that would expose them to different aspects of practicing and understanding international law. One of the most influential of those speakers was David Scheffer, the first United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, who helped create the ICTY.

McCarthy, who would like to work in the Office of War Crimes someday, charted his future based on the careerpaths of Scheffer and other ambassadors who followed in that position. After graduation, McCarthy clerked on the Washington Court of Appeals in Tacoma, where he helped to write published cases and handled criminal appeals. Meanwhile, he applied for positions within the ICTY. He was hired about a year ago as an Associate Legal Officer to work in the Chambers section of the court. In the job, he researches law on motions submitted during trial, writes about how the law applies to the case, and keeps track of the facts of the case. Part of what he finds so satisfying about working on the Yugoslavia tribunal is the feeling that he's charting new territory.

"It's definitely one of the most interesting and most rapidly developing fields in international law," McCarthy said. "After the Nuremburg Trials, there wasn't another international war tribunal until the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia started 50 years later."

McCarthy's experience at the Law School influences his work at the Tribunal on a daily basis. One major influence was Eric Posner, the Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, who shared McCarthy's interest in the direction of international law and who taught McCarthy to cast a skeptical eye on accepted arguments. From Posner and others at the Law School, McCarthy said he learned to regularly question viewpoints and argue his opinion rather than automatically accept what others said.

"At the ICTY, lawyers from every kind of legal system are in one place shaping a new body of law," he said. "Something that carried over very well from the University of Chicago to the Tribunal is that you discuss and debate ideas."

McCarthy has a contract with the Yugoslavia Tribunal into 2011. His contract is eligible for extension, however the Yugoslavia Tribunal is in its waning days. It is mandated to close by 2014, barring the arrest of outstanding fugitives. After his time with the Tribunal ends, McCarthy hopes to pursue a career in the U.S. Department of Justice.

Similar to how McCarthy viewed his work on the ICTY, Stowell saw her summer in Rwanda as an opportunity to take part in shaping international criminal law. In one instance, a defendant associated with Bagosora's casemoved for severance in circumstances that made the issue one of first impression for the court. Stowell was involved in researching the motion.

"The work I did, performed in a court with limited resources, contrasted with the academic discussions about the formation of international law I had participated in just weeks prior in a Public International Law class," she said. "I changed some opinions and perceptions I had gained in class."

Stowell first heard about the ICTR internship from the Law School's Office of Career Services, and she applied after hearing frompast Chicago Law interns about their experiences. At the end of her first year of law school, she traveled from Chicago to Arusha, Tanzania-a trek that took 24 hours.

Stowell had heard that past visitors to Arusha had brought their own lightbulbs, toilet paper, and soap. But the town had modernized by the time Stowell arrived. Life wasn't rudimentary, but it was different than home. The shower and electricity worked only occasionally in the apartment Stowell shared with her roommate, an intern from Spain. Their landlord was a man she and others called Papa Guta, who was rumored to be a former gamekeeper. One day, Papa Guta knocked on Sowell's door and handed her a black plastic sack. "Impala," he said, pointing to his bounty. The next night, interns from Spain and France joined Stowell for an impala feast.

"We ignored the fact that the electricity had been out all day, overcooked the meat on a hot plate to compensate for the lack of refrigeration, and ate well," she said. "It wasn't bad."

Stowell's work in Africa didn't end with her internship. The next summer, Mayer Brown, where Stowell worked after graduating, sent her to Rwanda for three weeks to research gacaca, a system of community justice intended to hasten the Rwanda legal proceedings and promote reconciliation. She recently finished a clerkship with the Hon. Susan P. Read, '72, on the New York Court of Appeals, and has returned to Mayer Brown where she hopes to pursue the firm's pro bono opportunities, including a broad range of projects involving international law.

The most memorable part about living in Arusha for Jeff Crapko, '11, was the day-to-day interactions with the locals. When he interned at the ICTR in 2009, Crapko liked spending his free time with two Tanzanian men who worked with him on the Tribunal in non-legal capacities. He still keeps in contact with the men.

"It's always a valuable experience to make friends from a culture and region that isn't your own," Crapko said.

Carolyn Tan, '11, interned at the Tribunal the same summer as Crapko. Her courses in criminal law, legal research and writing, and her first-year elective, public international law, were themost helpful in preparing her, she said.The internship allowed her to gain valuable practical experience in international criminal law. Her life also was enriched in other ways-before she left Tanzania, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Crapko enriched his experience at the Tribunal by traveling to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. The site includes a haunting property where 40,000 people were killed in one day during the genocide. His experiences working on the Tribunal and visiting the memorial aren't ones he will soon forget.

"I don't think there is any replacement for the type of education you can receive by working on the legal work associated with the Rwandan Genocide, reading protected witness transcripts, and traveling to Rwanda to see the country for yourself," Crapko said.

If the past is any indication, more Chicago Law students will have similar experiences in years to come.

"Even for people who want to go into the private sector, working at the Tribunal demonstrates a lot of very employable qualities," Casaleggi said. "It shows they're hard workers, they're not afraid of challenges, and they can hit the ground running."

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