International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Office of the Prosecutor
The following is an excerpt taken from two letters Ms. Mgbako wrote during her internship.
Housed in Tanzania, the UN established the Tribunal almost a decade ago to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. As Phillip Gourevitch writes in his seminal account of the Rwandan genocide, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda: “Decimation means the killing of every tenth person in a population, and in the spring and early summer of 1994 a program of massacres decimated the Republic of Rwanda. Although the killing was low tech—performed largely by machete—it was carried out at dazzling speed: of an original population of about seven and half million, at least 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days.” The head of ICTR Chambers noted that the past century will be known as the “genocidal century.” More people were killed as a result of genocide than at any other time in the history of the world.
I am working in the Office of the Prosecutor with a dedicated team of lawyers from the US, Cameroon, Kenya, and Rwanda. There are 40 interns from all over the world. The case to which I have been assigned is the prosecution of the three men who controlled the radio station and newspaper that incited the genocide through hate propaganda. They have been charged with genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity. Our closing brief is due in less than a week, and my first assignment was to tackle sentencing (analyzing the relevant case law and based on aggravating factors, mitigating factors, and the gravity of the offenses recommending to the Trial Chamber what the sentences of each of the Accused should be if found guilty on all counts). I also drafted the background sections on conspiracy to commit genocide and civilian command responsibility. The work is challenging and often emotionally exhausting. The scale of the Rwandan genocide, the sheer and utter horror of it, never escapes me. One of my fellow interns who is Rwandan returned to Rwanda right after the genocide and helped bury the dead, some of whom were his friends at the University of Butare, where 75% of the students were slaughtered.
Since my arrival I have been struggling with the brutal truth of history in our own time, constantly questioning what shape justice should have—what should justice look like? Working at the Tribunal has been a tremendous opportunity, but the Tribunal is so divorced from the Rwandan population. Therefore, my fellow HLS interns and I decided to take a 5 day trip to Rwanda in order to put our work into focus, to experience the people and places who have filled our conversations and thoughts and work. It was a terribly important trip, and perhaps some of the most profound days of my life.
In Rwanda we went to two genocide memorial sites about an hour outside of Kigali, Rwanda’s hilly, lovely capital. At Ntarama church, the second site we visited, 5000 Tutsis seeking sanctuary inside the church were massacred. Those who hid in Ntarama church were first attacked with grenades. Then the militiamen entered to finish off those who had survived the grenade attack with machetes and nail studded clubs. One of the survivors of that attack, who lost his entire family, told us he survived because the bodies of the dead kept falling on top of him, like rain. The church remained in the same state it had been in ten years ago immediately following the attack—holes in the ceiling from the grenade fragments, blood splattered on the walls, bones and skulls scattered on the floor along with sandals, clothes, and children’s books.
The next day we attended a “gacaca” tribunal session in Kigali, an inspiring four hours that calmed a tiny bit of the grief that I felt at the genocide memorial sites the day before. Gacaca, which means “smooth grass” in Kinyarwanda, is a traditional form of Rwandese justice through which the community “testifies” and “convicts” those accused of crimes. Everyone in the community is invited to bear witness and the 200,000 gacaca “judges” are members of the local community. So many people were involved in the Rwandan genocide that it would take 180 years to prosecute all of the genocide aires overflowing in the Rwandan prisons. So, the government launched the idea to revive gacaca tribunals, in the hopes that this would bring justice close to the Rwandan population.
We spent two days applying for and obtaining gacaca passes in order to attend as foreign observers. With the passes, we attended a riveting gacaca session that was in the 6th stage, when they bring the prisoners back to the community and the community “testifies” about the alleged crimes of the accused. Over 100 community members attended the gacaca—we all sat on wooden benches underneath a white billowing tent that shaded us from the midday sun. Most of the people in attendance were in that community during the genocide, so it was an intimate affair, and people stood and sat closely together. The first prisoner took center stage and denied having participated in the genocide. The questions from the community were mainly around the death of one particular woman named Margaret. Time and again community members implored the prisoner to lay down truth. I did not get the sense that Margaret’s family or the other community members were thirsty for blood or for revenge. They just wanted the truth about their sister and mother’s death to belaid out in the midday sun for all to see. They wanted what they all knew to be uncovered and laid bare.
After the gacaca session we found out that some people had been bribed not to testify and that others were too afraid to speak. Despite these great challenges, I was still moved and inspired by the proceedings. There was so much potential for therapeutic catharsis because the struggle for justice was brought so close to the community. There was perhaps room for justice to take shape.As we drove back to Kigali through the lovely winding hills of Ruhengeri, I thought to myself that if there is hope for Rwanda, after the horror of its past, then there is hope for the world entire. I looked at our taxi driver Justin, who lost most of his family in the genocide, who had such kind ways. The sun slept in the sky as it turned from twilight into the deep darkness of the night. I listened to Joni Mitchell’s “A Little Green” (where she sings that “sometimes there will be sorrow”) and knew that I would never forget the Rwandan dead, that I would forever remember that once, they were.I left Rwanda with hope, despite all the immense suffering, despite all that I still do not understand. There are so many levels of experience in post genocide Rwanda, and many of these experiences contradict each other. The ravishing beauty of the hills of Ruhengeri contrasted with the rivers that we were told ran red with blood during the genocide. I still feel the shadow of grief—the story of Rwanda, its past and its struggle for a future, is enough to break anyone’s heart. But the people of Rwanda, like any people anywhere, want peace, to live their lives with dignity, to find a way to live on. I am forever changed and forever haunted by Rwanda, her beauty and her sorrow tucked beneath my skin. Summer 2003
United Nations Development Programme
While a student at Harvard Law School from 1988 to 1991, I knew that I was interested in international work. However I wasn’t clear how that interest would ultimately manifest in a career, and certainly had no idea at the time that it would lead to the United Nations. Thus, while at Harvard, I took courses in international law and international human rights law, as well as the traditional corporate courses. During the summers, I served as summer associates in law firms in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., where I was introduced to international work primarily on the corporate side (e.g. international trade law, international telecommunications issues).
Leaving Harvard in 1991, I headed to Washington, D.C., as an Associate with Arnold &Porter in the litigation practice area, where I gained good experience in litigation matters, even handling directly, as a junior associate, a small labour law dispute in Maryland State court. Due to the firm’s excellent commitment to pro bono service, I had exciting opportunities while at the firm to support the CODES A negotiations in South Africa, with the Washington Lawyers Committee, researching other historical events that could inform the processes taking place in South Africa at the time. We primarily looked at the transition to independence of the former French colonies in Africa as well as the native American experience here in the United States. I also had an opportunity during this time to review and comment on the draft constitution for Togo.
I left Arnold & Porter to join the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) as a Junior Professional Officer, financed by the United States Government. At UNHCR, I served as Associate Protection Officer in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa, primarily working with political refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Following my assignment with UNHCR, I joined the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs (OLA), where I served as Legal Officer from 1995 to 2000. In OLA, I worked in the General Legal Division, handling commercial and institutional legal matters. This work included commercial contracts, claims, arbitration as well as treaties, issues of mandates and competence of the governing bodies of the United Nations. A highlight of my tenure with OLA was my work as part of the team negotiating the Oil-for-Food arrangements. In addition to matters related to the Secretariat, I focused on issues related to the separately administered funds and programmes, such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
As a result of my area of focus in OLA, in 2000, I joined the legal office of the UNDP, where I have served as Legal Specialist and Senior Legal Advisor, handling commercial and institutional matters for UNDP, and its administered funds – United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). In October 2007, I was appointed Director of UNDP’s Legal Support Office, in the Bureau of Management.
The Legal Support Office serves as the in-house legal office of UNDP and has two primary practice areas – the Human Resources Legal Practice and the Corporate and Institutional Legal Practice. In the Human Resources Legal Practice, we handle staff grievances, appeals and disciplinary matters, benefits and entitlements, supporting the Office of Human Resources. In the Corporate and Institutional Legal Practice, we handle commercial matters, contracts, claims and arbitration, as well as treaties, operational agreements that support UNDP’s development activities, and matters related to UNDP’s mandate. The same matters are also handled for the UNDP administered funds – UNV, UNCDF and UNIFEM.
I am frequently asked by students for advice on what the UN looks for in a candidate for a legal position and what is the “best track” to land a UN legal job following graduation from law school. While I never served as an intern with the United Nations, internships – although unpaid – provide good opportunities for students to support the activities of the Organization and make contacts that can be helpful when considering future possibilities. The internship programme is decentralized, so students should apply to offices of interest directly. In general, I advise that students leaving Harvard should try to get solid legal experience (two to four years) before attempting to join the United Nations. That experience could be in a law firm, an in-house counsel position in a corporation or with a non-governmental organization. It is critical for applicants to UN positions to demonstrate commitment and interest in international issues. Fluency in foreign languages and experience living abroad are important when distinguishing top candidates for few positions. In UNDP, for example, we work in English, French and Spanish.
The first point of entry, as in my case, can be a Junior Professional Officer position (financed by national governments). Another option is by competing in the National Competitive Examination offered by the Secretariat. Each separately administered fund or programme such as UNICEF or UNDP has its own recruitment programme for future leaders. All information is posted on the various websites which can be accessed through the UN website at www.un.org. There are also opportunities to serve in peacekeeping operations through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the Secretariat. Some officials have entered service through consultancies and these are posted on UN websites. Gender and geographic diversity are taken into account in accordance with applicable policies. This means that sometimes it is easier to enter the United Nations, as I did, through a field office.
It is truly an honor being a part of the United Nations, and working in an international and multicultural environment. In my capacity as Director of the UNDP Legal Support Office, I defend UNDP’s legal interests. At the same time, lawyers in the Organization have a great opportunity to contribute to the policy agenda, ensuring compliance with relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly and other principle and subsidiary organs of the United Nations. Although I never thought I would spend my career in the international civil service, it has been a great journey and I would not change one experience! Summer 2008
African Development Bank
I always tell people that I ended up joining the African Development Bank in August of 1998 through one part chance and one part design. The design ingredient was part of a plan, rather longstanding, to do development work in Africa. I had spent 6 years in law firms in New York, working on corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and international transactions- I worked for what was at the time the largest law firm in the world, Baker & McKenzie- but the international part was heavy on all things non-African. I also knew that without this experience, I had little chance of being hired by any of the well-known development financial institutions that did work in Africa, such as World Bank and IFC. The one part chance was skimming through the Economist one day and coming upon an ad for the African Development Bank, which at that time was located in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I had never heard about them but they were looking for lawyers who had private sector experience and my qualifications and experience fit perfectly- but the location did not. At that point, in Africa I had been only to Dakar and Accra but decided to apply anyway. After I sent off the application, I heard nothing back for about 5 months; then a DHL package came with a ticket and an invitation to interview in Abidjan!
After 10 years with the Bank, I am now Principal Legal Counsel, working on both public and private sector transactions, as well as policy documents relating to different matters, such as the development of new financial products I am or have been responsible for the legal documentation for public sector lending to a number of countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, Egypt, Lesotho, Mauritius, Nigeria, and Zambia. I also handle private sector investments, such as the Bank’s investments in private equity funds, direct loans to companies or lines of credits to commercial banks and regional financial institutions. The difference between the private sector work and the public sector work is that in the public sector, loans are generally made to countries themselves, or to institutions that benefit from a government guarantee; while in the private sector, loans are made to companies that are at least 51% owned by private entities. I should say a bit about the Bank, which is reviewing Turkey’s application to be its 25th non-regional member country. It is a multilateral development bank much like the World Bank except that its only scope of operations is Africa; and with the membership of the 53 African countries, its membership totals 78 countries. The legal department is about 20 lawyers divided between the administrative/finance side (handling all of the Bank’s personnel/HR issues as well as its borrowings on the capital markets) and the operations affairs division, which handles all of its lending operations.
A typical day may involve: (i) providing comments to a policy document that has been prepared by our treasury department, that would allow us to lend in local currency to regional member countries; (ii) reviewing an appraisal report for a project grant (ie. the money does not have to be repaid) for a road upgrading project in Cameroon, participating in a Bank team meeting to structure the project and drafting the grant agreement for negotiations; (iii) responding to a request for opinion from the private sector department on what the banks options are in light of a payment default by a borrower; and (iv) negotiating a draft term sheet with co-financiers, including bilateral development agencies such as the French Proparco and other multilateral development banks such as the European Investment Bank.
My job has also provided me with the opportunity to travel extensively in sub-Saharan Africa and, since the Bank became temporarily located in Tunis, Tunisia in 2003, to get to know Northern Africa. The most challenging part of my job is the fact that we are short-staffed, so typically there is no opportunity to delegate work to any junior staff and I am able to work on a wide range of diverse transactions and policy matters. The most wonderful part about my job is the fact that I am doing the work I set out to do 10 years ago, and am involved as a participant (and not an observer) in the process that is development in Africa.
Advice that I would provide young graduates is to keep an open mind about choices and to realize that no one job is perfect. I had never heard of the Bank prior to the ad in the Economist; but knew that the work fit perfectly with my desires. I also thought that I would only work at the Bank for two years – but ten years, one husband, two children, and two countries later, I am grateful that I kept an open mind. Summer 2008
United Nations; International Atomic Energy Agency/ICTY
I began working with United Nations organizations in 1971 right after graduation from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (KSG) and one year after graduation from Harvard Law School. I had always been interested in the mix of law and international politics and had thought of possibilities at State or Justice. As I had previously spent a month at the United Nations Legal Office as an intern during the summer in which I took the New York State Bar exam, the UN was at the top of the list and—right time, right place—an entry-level vacancy opened up just before graduation from KSG.
Working in the international civil service has its own particular rewards and frustrations; it is an experience hard to duplicate anywhere else. People of different cultural and educational backgrounds analyze issues and problems differently. As an American lawyer working in the UN system, I do not represent the US government in any way, but I am expected to “think like an American lawyer,” as my law school professors might have said. Lawyering in a political organization is obviously a mix of law and politics. One works side-by-side with diplomats, bureaucrats, idealists, cynics, civil law lawyers, common law lawyers, “political science” lawyers, etc.
I worked as a Legal Officer in the UN from 1971 until 1997. For the first fifteen years, I worked in the area of codifying certain topics of public international law (such as the law of treaties, succession of States to treaties, sovereign immunities and the law of international watercourses). It was academically-oriented, involving research and analytical reports on State practice, doctrine and judicial decisions concerning a given legal topic. I also provided support to UN legal bodies, including the International Law Commission in Geneva. During my period in this division, I served under four different Soviet directors with remarkably little difficulty (although one director once said he would not judge staff members’ ability to show “initiative,” since initiative “only came from the top”!)
Following that, I spent 10 years in the Office of the Legal Counsel, which involved day-to-day legal advising on a whole range of public international law and UN institutional law questions. I served as basically the “parliamentarian” of the Assembly, and virtually all UN bodies, being responsible for correct application of procedural rules. Whenever there were procedural difficulties or challenges, I was called down to the meeting as a sort of “fire brigade.” After a while, I was usually greeted by diplomats with questions such as “Why are you here? What’s wrong?” In this office, there was a lively mix of law and sensitive political matters, such as the US attempt to close the PLO Mission and denial of Arafat’s visa, claims of succession to membership and treaties following the break-up of the former USSR and Yugoslavia, and constitutional issues such as use of force under the Charter and the system of “checks and balances” between UN organs. What was most rewarding was being responsible with other colleagues for drafting the Statute of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, which was adopted by the Security Council without change. We had to handle sensitive issues of “Nuremburg law” and international humanitarian law on short notice; it is greatly satisfying to see the Tribunal fully operational.
Following 25 years in the UN, I tried job mobility in 1997 by taking up the post of Legal Adviser at a UN-related organization based in Vienna, Austria—the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As the Legal Adviser, I was in charge of providing all legal assistance and advice to the Agency executive head, staff and policy organs of the Agency. This involved the usual areas such as: personnel law; financial rules; contracts; privileges and immunities; interpretation of treaties, the constitution, resolutions and decisions; and general public international law. In addition, legal matters specific to the nuclear area were dealt with: civil liability of nuclear damage; rights and obligations under non-proliferation “safeguards” agreements; inspections in Iraq pursuant to Security Council resolutions; conversion of nuclear safety “soft” law into “hard” law; and finally, legislative assistance to States on how treaty provisions and IAEA standards can be incorporated into national legislation.
I took early retirement in July 2001 after having spent 30 years as an international lawyer in the UN. I took up teaching various international law subjects at the University of California, Davis School of Law as the Homer Angelo Visiting Professor of International Law (2001-2002) and then at the New England School of Law as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Law (2002-2003). At the request of the newly elected President (Chief Judge) of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Prof. Theodor Meron of NYU, I joined his team at The Hague in 2003 as his Chief of Staff. There I deal with policy issues which reach the desk of the President, including: reports to the Security Council on Tribunal activities; accomplishing the “completion strategy” for finishing cases by 2010 and transferring cases of low or intermediate level accused to competent national jurisdictions: developing legislative and other measures needed to set up the Sarajevo War Crimes Chamber of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina; relations with Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro; review of international humanitarian law and international criminal law issues raised in draft judgments and decisions of appeals cases over which the President presides; and scheduling of cases and appointment of Judges. I will hold this position until President Meron leaves the office of President of the Tribunal.
In terms of advice on how to pursue a career in the international civil service, what is required is ingenuity (there are many organizations or programmes which can use lawyers), persistence and some luck. There are sometimes obstacles, however: American nationality may be a handicap in those organizations where the number of Americans already exceeds the US “quota”; lack of financial resources; etc. US citizens interested in this type of career should contact the US State Department and/or the US Mission to the organization in question to get information on vacancies and possibilities. As to qualifications, good lawyers are always needed. What is essential is demonstrating excellent basic legal analytical skills. In addition, it would no doubt be helpful to show an interest in international law through membership or activities in various societies and publications.
Members of the international civil service may work long hours, may be subjected to uninformed criticism by diplomats and certainly do not reap the financial rewards found in private practice. Rewards are found in other ways, such as working in a stimulating multicultural environment, dealing with critical international issues, and sometimes “making a difference” in the way a matter is handled. Summer 2004
Former Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
On my first day of law school, I was asked to indicate my areas of interest. I wrote, “International law. Civil Rights. Trials.” My advisor said, “Interesting. Now pick one, because you surely will not be able to do all three.” Not only did I feel I had no ambition, but I also had no focus. How would I survive among classmates who were already planning to clerk on the Supreme Court, or to run for Senate, or to follow Dad’s footsteps to a partnership at Sullivan & Cromwell?
Since my most immediate desire was to get into the courtroom, I became a prosecutor in Washington, D.C., cajoling witnesses to testify, pleading with juries to see beyond the obvious lies, and learning through experience the limitations placed by memory loss, deceit, and stupidity on getting at the truth. While I got to know one community in-depth, I never forgot my sense of the wider world. As an immigrant child, I was always aware that across the ocean or over the border, there is another way of looking at the world, another possibility. However, my international career prospects seemed fairly limited as a trial lawyer, and certainly, criminal law was one area which domestic jurisdictions —states, let alone, nations – seemed to guard jealously as the very essence of their sovereignty.
The year I spent in Germany on a fellowship from 1993-94 learning about the civil law, or “inquisitorial,” system of justice was enlightening, but I believed, largely irrelevant for my career. Indeed, when I returned to Washington and the Justice Department, I joined the Civil Rights Division Criminal Section as a trial attorney. It was immensely satisfying to deal with victims of official misconduct, excessive force, hate crimes, and slavery, who felt otherwise abandoned. I believed we were achieving justice at a fundamental level.
In the meantime, the war in the Balkans was generating calls for a criminal tribunal in the model of those created after World War II. In 1994, the UN approved the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, and in 1998, I joined as a trial attorney. One of approximately 40 lawyers who conducted trials for the Office of the Prosecutor, I investigated serious violations of humanitarian law and attempted to link them to individual responsibility. Every day brought novel issues and tasks, such as coordinating information with the military for arrests, arranging travel of vulnerable witnesses, interviewing expert witnesses, and negotiating stipulations with defense counsel. Once a suspect was arrested and the case reached trial, I presented the evidence before an internationally composed three-judge panel, conducted direct and cross-examination of witnesses and made arguments in the courtroom. From March through November 2000, my colleagues and I tried a case against three members of the Bosnian Serb Army which resulted in a verdict finding, for the first time in history, that rape alone can be a crime against humanity and defining enslavement in an international context. Shortly thereafter, I conducted another trial against a prison-camp commander, formerly a math teacher, who oversaw the murders, torture and enslavement of Muslim civilian men. He, too, was convicted and held responsible for the crimes he committed. Just before I left the Tribunal in fall of 2002, I was part of the team who investigated and indicted former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic for his role in the crimes committed in Croatia.
The field of international criminal law is growing in exciting ways, as the world community seeks creative ways to address old problems. Old dictators are confronting new attitudes and finding fewer places of refuge. International tribunals are weaving together civil law and common law traditions, as lawyers and scholars from vastly different societies and backgrounds come together to work through practical issues of substance and procedure, such as: Can a single act of rape be a crime against humanity? Can indifference to the fate of 100,000 people be considered genocide? When does a violation of procedural rules justify the release of a suspected perpetrator of genocide? We were constantly aware that our lively discussions and jurisprudence would form a basis for the permanent International Criminal Court.
In many ways I have been very lucky. I have always been able to follow my heart’s desire as a lawyer, and opportunities presented themselves at just the right moment. The fact that I lacked a grand plan more than twenty years ago seems now to have been a blessing, not a hindrance. No one could have envisioned my career path back then because some of the jobs I held did not yet exist. I did not seek to combine all my areas of interest, but I have ended up doing just that.
Each new generation of law students struggles to maintain their ideals amid great pressure to abandon them. When the goal is money or material success, individuals can find ready support from society and even family members. But when the rewards are more abstract, the support can be less forthcoming. I recall my aunt asking with genuine puzzlement, “So could you explain to me why you’re taking a job with the government in which you work harder and get paid less than in the private sector?” My parents, like other immigrants, also wanted me to fit their mold of success, namely, a big job in a big firm. It is extremely hard to turn one’s back on that kind of logic, especially considering that immigrants are part of the “public” to which “public interest” often refers. However, over the years, through my increasingly strange jobs, my parents have grown to accept, understand, and even be proud of my achievements.
Students often write to me, asking advice on careers: If I want to join the Justice Department, should I become a JAG officer first or an Assistant District Attorney? Should I take a job with a law firm or the US Attorney’s Office? While I am happy to give answers, I believe the questions should be more fundamental, so I always ask: When you wake up in the middle of the night, what do you feel is the right decision? Where do you think you will grow as a young lawyer? If you could talk with yourself as a 10-year-old, what would he or she want you to do? While I do not believe that there is any single path to happiness or to a particular goal, I am sure that one only ever truly succeeds at what one loves. Summer 2004 Ms. Kuo worked at the ICTY until 2002.
This fall I will begin working for the legal department of the World Bank where I expect to work on legal and judicial reform, anti-corruption, access to justice and litigation issues. How did I get here?
During my summers I took international law courses and attended law conferences in Europe. As a young lawyer I tried to build skills in my area of specialization: international criminal justice. I did litigation both in a firm and pro bono. I took on legal aid cases. I even worked for a team of prosecutors in an anti-corruption campaign, climaxing with the historic impeachment trial of a corrupt President of the Republic of the Philippines. I also worked on international litigation involving a mass torts case. These experiences helped me obtain necessary experience as a practicing attorney.
‘Lawyer skills’ are important to build. International organizations appreciate and look to see if a person can handle complex projects, deal with various kinds of people, and are able to effectively execute tasks on the ground. Experience in the international sector is essential; there are hordes of students and lawyers who can do research, but few have actual experience practicing law. If you plan to work for the United Nations or the Criminal Tribunals, it also is helpful to know French.
The rest is serendipity. Go to your public service advisers, attend alumni gatherings and meet with interesting people. One overlooked resource is the pool of retired practitioners and jurists. These attorneys often have time and interest in helping young lawyers. Look for them! And before a job interview, get advice from someone who knows about the organization and prepare thoroughly. Summer 2004
After law school, I was set to go back home to my country to do my bit of reform advocacy work. The World Bank offered to show me the world in all its beauty and depravity. Since then, my work has allowed me, on a day to day basis, to affirm my common humanity with all peoples of the world.
A typical day in the Bank consists of a wonderful blend of academic work and practical training. From countless offerings of talks, fora, and brown bag lunches on a myriad of issues from water law to demobilization and integration in conflict-ridden countries featuring development experts, social scientists, Nobel Prize Winners and recognized academics to actual negotiations with government counterparts and consultations with NGOs and civil society in the developing world. The diversity of the workforce in both national origin and professional expertise is unmatched. The enthusiasm and the sense of history and purpose of the staff is inspiring for a young lawyer and development practitioner.
I was fortunate to have been involved in the important work of reviewing and reforming the anti-corruption and whistleblowing policies of the World Bank group. The development community came into the realization that corruption kills, as it deprives the most vulnerable from the basic necessities of living and denies them the opportunity to hope for a better life. I come from a country known for the kleptomania of the conjugal Marcos dictatorship and I worked for the impeachment of another corrupt president. I was thus happy to work on an anti-corruption campaign in the international area and hope that giving aid without accountability and good governance will soon be a thing of the past. I also work on litigation concerns for the institution both external and internal, making sure that the funds and resources of the institution are rightfully deployed in the fight against poverty and should not be for the private benefit of certain individuals.
Many Americans are concerned about employment quotas within the World Bank. US citizens with appropriate expertise have equal opportunities for employment in the World Bank. Some nationals from particular regions may have the appropriate regional experience and language skills for particular work or projects in regional opportunities. Summer 2005
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
I currently am serving with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) Legal Transition Team. The EBRD is a multinational investment bank that assists 27 nations from Central Europe to Central Asia in the transition from the Soviet planned system to market economies and multiparty democracy. The EBRD’s shareholders include 60 different nations, and it provides loan and equity investments to private and public entities in the 27 nations of its operations. The EBRD also provides various forms of economic and legal advice to the nations in which it works. Altogether, approximately 1,000 people work at the EBRD’s London Headquarters Office, with additional staff operating in the regional offices located in the EBRD’s countries of operation.
The Legal Transition Team (LTT) is part of the Office of the General Counsel at the EBRD. The LTT’s mission is to help these nations develop the legal infrastructure to support investment and economic growth in a market economy. I have long been interested in Russia and the former territories of the Soviet Union. I also have for the last few years been pursuing an interest in economic development and the role private-public partnerships can play in enhancing the quality of life in a community, city, country, etc. Added to these interests is a desire to see how rule of law reform can play a role in the infrastructure development of a nation’s commercial and financial systems. With all these components integrated together, the EBRD’s Legal Transition Team became a clear choice for a summer internship.
Knowing that I would likely work in America during the summer after my second year of law school, I realized that the summer after the first year would be a good time to live and work overseas. To prepare myself for such an opportunity, I started researching potential jobs in the international rule of law field early in the fall, ultimately submitting my application for the EBRD position in December.
Prior to coming to law school, I worked for a summer at the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia, and I spent another summer studying Russian in St. Petersburg. I also spent three summers working in Washington, D.C., first at a non-profit group called the American Academy of Diplomacy, then for the office of my senator, and finally, for the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Combined with concentrations in political science and Russian language at my undergraduate university, these experiences helped me become competitive for the EBRD position, as well as gave me the background to make a successful transition to a new country and job.
As a side note, although a commitment to a career in international public law is helpful, it is not necessary. I am interested in international law and development issues, but my greater aspirations are concentrated on community development issues in America. Regardless of whether your long-term goals are primarily international or domestic oriented, I recommend an overseas legal internship as an excellent way to learn much while applying your legal education in a meaningful way.
The LTT specializes in commercial and financial legal system reforms in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The core practice areas which the LTT targets for reform are as follows: capital markets, concessions, corporate governance, judicial capacity building, secured transactions, and telecommunications. The LTT consists of 6 lawyers, one for each different practice area, and various support staff. Around 120 people work in the General Counsel’s London Office, which is located in the EBRD Headquarters Building.
Typically, I start work around 8:30 a.m. and finish about 5:30 p.m. I generally spend part of the work day on ongoing long-term projects, and the other part on various specialty projects that generally require a week or less of work. At about the halfway point of the internship, I have worked on the following assortment of projects:
▪ Researching for and drafting and editing the annual Commercial Law Assessments for Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Moldova. These reports analyze the general constitutional and legal frameworks of the selected country, as well as to what extent the country’s commercial and financial legal systems comport with international standards
▪ Drafting and editing a report on the findings from the LTT’s work regarding the role corruption plays in the legal systems of the EBRD’s countries of operation
▪ Drafting sections of LTT’s special Corporate Governance Effectiveness report which examines how the corporate governance laws on the books operate in practice in the EBRD’s countries of operation
▪ Drafting the various documents required for a project proposal on Secured Transactions Legal Reform in Georgia that is being developed by the LTT’s legal specialist on secured transactions.
The greatest challenges have been adapting to the formalities of a large business environment and adjusting to life in London. It is important to remember that even when you are living and working in an English-speaking location overseas, the culture and norms are likely to be considerably different from those in America. I have found this to be the case through my experiences in Australia and England, and it is important to understand this reality if one is to make the most of her or his overseas experience.
The most memorable work experience has been working on the Georgia Secured Transactions Legal Reform Project. I have had the opportunity to draft the documents for the project, as well as learn much about a vital area of the law which I have yet to study at law school. In general, some of the most memorable experiences this summer have come from my weekend travel adventures. London is a great city of departure for many fantastic weekend trips throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland, and continental Europe.
Open-mindedness, a strong work ethic, good writing skills, and an interest in development work in transitioning nations are all important qualities to possess in order to make the most of one’s time with the EBRD’s Legal Transition Team. Additionally, a willingness to ask for and take on additional responsibility can make the experience even more meaningful and productive. While not a prerequisite, some knowledge of Russian would be helpful. Additionally, because the EBRD’s staff is composed of workers from all over the world, any proficiency in a foreign language is welcomed. Prior international experience is very important in obtaining a legal position at the EBRD. Summer 2005
United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Internship in Mongolia placed me with the Household Livelihood Capacity Support Programme Office (HLCSPO). The HLCSPO is a quasi-autonomous government agency within the Mongolian government that works to alleviate poverty throughout the country. Their head office consists of 15 staff members who work on various projects in the areas of microfinance, agriculture, and household support.
My initial work plan for the summer included three main projects: developing a pilot program to provide business development services (BDS) to rural microenterprises, conducting an assessment of the current management methodology of the Revolving Loan Fund (RLF), and reviewing the existing microfinance programs in the country, in order to prepare a report on the legal and regulatory framework required for the efficient operation of non-bank financial institutions in Mongolia.
However, my summer work ultimately consisted of developing and attempting to implement various BDS pilot proposals. The initial plan, to create a small business incubator in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, ran into much resistance when introduced to other donor organizations and government officials. Therefore, I spent several weeks researching and preparing alternative BDS approaches that were more of an appropriate fit with the shifting goals of the project and the economic realities of rural Mongolia. After a network/cluster BDS approach was selected and developed, I performed a rapid needs assessment analysis along with a National Consultant, visiting several possible pilot sites in rural areas around Mongolia and conducting field interviews and group sessions with microentrepreneurs to learn more about each sites’ economic conditions and the obstacles that microenterprises that operated there faced. From the needs assessment information, a site was selected and a detailed project plan was created to implement the BDS project.
In addition to working on the BDS pilot project, smaller projects I was able to spend some time on included preparing reports on several Mongolian microfinance institutions, assessing their strategic approach to and operations in microlending, and assisting in the drafting of HLCSPO’s semi-annual report to donor organizations. Several individuals at different organizations, including the UNDP, Poverty Research & Employment Facilitation Office, and the Ministry of Social Welfare & Labor, all had a stake in the pilot project and provided input and feedback, but there was no sole supervisor on the project. As a result there was no authority to create a consensus and make a final decision. It was a valuable lesson to work on a development project with multiple stakeholders. It was an interesting challenge to learn how to deal with many different, highly political actors. Not having a direct supervisor also proved to be both a challenge and a good lesson, as it provided me with the opportunity to take on a great deal of responsibility and meet a wide variety of people working in the development and microenterprise field. One year later, out of the blue, I got great news that they had finished implementing the pilot project. There are now plans to expand the project to more areas. It was a pleasant surprise to hear. Summer 2004
United Nations; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
My route to working at the United Nations, practicing law for ten years, was, oddly enough, an unusual one for the organization. I am a human rights officer whose portfolio at the UN Office
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is rule of law in post conflict states, and one of the few lawyers who has actually practiced law. With my newly created post and the UN’s prioritization of rule of law and transitional justice, I expect to see more and more opportunities for lawyers with international criminal law experience coming to the UN. I believe an LL.M will be an essential component to the applicant’s toolbox. OHCHR alone receives hundreds upon hundreds of applications for human rights posts per month. It is critical that you set yourself apart from the rest of the applicants by highlighting the value you bring.
Though Canadian, I did my LL.B in the UK and practiced criminal law in London for seven years, focusing on drug trafficking and violent crime. I then moved to the U.S (I had passed the New York Bar), where I joined a non-profit organization that provided legal representation to indigent defendants charged with capital murder in Louisiana. This was followed by death penalty post conviction work in Texas.
During these years I had become a legal consultant to Amnesty International on U.S criminal justice issues, such as the application of the death penalty, jail conditions and use of force. This work expanded to include trial monitoring. In 1998, I was asked to assist the UN mission in Sierra Leone in monitoring a number of treason trials. This mixture of criminal law trial experience and human rights-related work resulted in being put on a list of Canadian experts who could be placed at the disposal of the UN. In 1999, I was asked to go to Kosovo as legal advisor in the UN Mission in Kosovo. From 1999 – 2001, I worked for the human rights component to the mission mandated with monitoring the emerging justice system, including the war crimes-related cases, from a human rights law perspective. Our monitoring reports, identifying systemic human rights violations, would then be sent to the relevant UN officials for action.
Following these two years, I did my LL.M at Harvard. It proved a critical time for me, since it provided an opportunity for reflection on the role of international law in transforming states, the increasing use of humanitarian intervention and strategies for post conflict reformation of dysfunctional justice systems. More importantly, the post at the UN, like many mid- level to senior posts, required an advanced law degree. Most of my colleagues, working on human rights-related issues possess either an LL.M or M.A. Obtaining such a degree, in my view, will add to your value.
After Harvard, I joined the Department of Justice in Canada, where, following a brief stint with the human rights law section, I became the project director for the government’s Afghan legal reform activities. My main counterparts were the Ministry of Justice and the Afghan Human Rights Commission, where we assisted in their development of a monitoring strategy. I then joined OHCHR in Geneva, the focal point in the UN system for human rights and rule of law.
My task is two-fold: to provide advice to our field presences on rule of law-related issues (i.e., advising on the draft Afghan Constitution) and to develop rule of law policy tools for post conflict states for UN staff engaged in criminal justice reform. To that end, with the assistance of experts, I am directing the development of policy tools that relate to a mapping of the justice sector, basic principles on establishing hybrid war crimes tribunals, basic principles on truth, reconciliation processes and vetting, and legal systems monitoring methodologies. This exciting project is just the beginning of the UN’s involvement in criminal justice reform in post conflict states. Since joining the UN I am inundated with requests for tips on obtaining a UN post. The answer is value: what value can you bring to this organization?
As you begin to consider your professional choices, consider one that provides constant, ever-changing, rich, dynamic challenges, where multi-tasking is a key asset. If a career in international human rights law is your desire, think strategically. First, build a strong professional legal career, with a mix of national and international law issues, add a dash of pro bono NGO or UN Volunteer field work and before you know it, you have value. Value that the UN will desperately need as it enhances its work on transitional justice.Summer 2004
World Bank Legal Department
“Go to law school, see the world and serve the public.” If you are reading this narrative, you must have dreamed this once or twice. A quarter century ago, my own dreams were slightly more modest—I only wanted to see China, the then-forbidden kingdom. And while I saw myself in public service, I had only the most vague notions of what that meant or what I would be doing.
Surprisingly enough, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the last 30 years as a lawyer in international public interest positions. After two years as an attorney at the US Department of the Treasury, in the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for International Affairs, I have spent the nearly 28 years in the Legal Department at the World Bank. Currently, I am the Bank’s Assistant General Counsel; I spent three years as Chief Counsel, Institutional Affairs, about two years before that as Advisor to the General Counsel, and, most happily, nearly five years before as the Bank’s Chief Counsel for East Asia and Pacific. In the early 80s (before children), I taught Chinese law as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and I now teach a seminar on Law and Society in China at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
How did I get here? A combination of good advice, good luck, good timing, and a good education. I came to Harvard Law School to study Asian law, armed with an undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard, including a junior year of study in Taiwan. Why did I come? When I started looking for jobs as a senior, I was repeatedly asked: “You’re 21, you have a degree from Radcliffe, you speak Chinese, what else do you do?” So, I was both relieved and intrigued when Professor Jerome Cohen (then HLS’ Director of East Asian Legal Studies (EALS)) sketched out possibilities of what I could do with a law degree and my knowledge of China and Chinese. I had no idea how right he would be.
In my 2L spring, I was one of the few without a summer job lined up, eschewing law firms and looking at non-profit legal offices. When the head of the Treasury’s international legal office (an EALS alum) got funding for a summer intern and inquired at HLS, I was available. That summer, I learned about international financial institutions, including the World Bank, and many other legal aspects of US foreign economic relations. Since the office had a policy against hiring lawyers right out of law school, it seemed like a perfect stress-free learning experience—but not a stepping-stone. The next year, that office had several openings, and decided to make an exception to hire me as a starting lawyer.
There wasn’t much China-related work in September 1978, but that changed when US-China relations were normalized in January 1979. Suddenly, I was in the midst of very interesting, core public international legal issues surrounding the unfreezing of frozen Chinese assets in the US, and the Claims Assets Settlement with China (for US assets expropriated in China). The other focus of my work was to work with a senior lawyer on legal issues of US participation in the international financial institutions (the IMF and the multilateral development banks), an area where Treasury is in the lead among US agencies. The two came together with the request from the People’s Republic of China to resume China’s participation in the IMF and the World Bank in 1980, replete with issues of state succession, international organization law and Chinese law. I was, ironically, prepared for these issues: I had written my third-year paper for Professor Cohen on China’s participation in international organizations.
China’s return to the World Bank meant that the Bank’s Legal Department was looking for someone with knowledge of Chinese law and Chinese. I fit the bill—and joined in December 1980. I spent the next 14 years in various roles as one of the Bank’s lawyers for its loans for projects in China, and along the way, for many other countries, such as Yugoslavia, Thailand, and Vietnam. I also was fortunate enough to work on legal and financial policy issues, and to continue to learn and write about Chinese law, and even Vietnamese law. I had the opportunity to serve as a project manager also, as I designed and prepared the Bank’s legal technical assistance project in China.
In 1994, just when the China legal project was approved, I was appointed the Bank’s first female Chief Counsel, for East Asia and Pacific. In that position, I managed a talented and diverse team of lawyers and administrative staff who handled the legal issues of the Bank’s lending operations in countries from Korea to Myanmar. The issues we tackled included international law issues, domestic law considerations and the Bank’s own policy and legal requirements—overshadowed after 1997 by the Asian financial crisis. That really drew all of us to focus on the Bank’s role in promoting economic development and fighting poverty in its member countries.
I moved in 1999 to work part-time (as I had in the late 80s, when my children were born), as an Adviser to the General Counsel, covering a myriad of internal and external legal and policy issues. My current (more than full-time) job as Assistant General Counsel incorporates a substantial amount of similar advice, with particular focus on the Bank’s Articles of Agreement (our “constitutional” law) and the rules governing membership, our directors and governors and our relations with other agencies. As the Bank moves into new areas and forms of endeavor, these seemingly dry issues become quite lively—and quite important to the design and implementation of key initiatives.
What advice would I have? First, don’t count out fortuity and don’t become disheartened. Look at what I couldn’t do: the US State Department Legal Adviser’s Office, the most obvious place for international public service in the federal government, turned down three opportunities to hire me (2L, 3L and while at Treasury). I tried to find a clerkship my third year, but the combination of my record and my interest in Asia made me an unlikely fit. Second, I had lots of good advice and people were willing to help me. The best piece of advice I got was from the late great Professor Abe Chayes, along the lines of: don’t take a job you don’t like for the job it will bring. The next job might not come through, and you’ll be less productive and happy for naught. Third, pick courses and activities that you find interesting and enjoy. You’ll make deeper contacts and learn more, and that will help you in unfathomable ways. Fourth, public agencies are often driven by budget constraints. Find out what you can about the funding of the jobs you want, and be willing to be flexible, if your personal economic circumstances permit. Summer 2008