The 24-hour journey to Kilimanjaro airport felt like one giant leap of faith. Tearfully bidding farewell to my husband at Pearson airport in Toronto, I knew very little about where I would stay or what I would be doing when I landed on a continent I had never visited. I arrived at night in a city with few paved roads and fewer street lights in an unmarked United Nations van complete with armed guard. Thus began my summer as a chambers intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.
The following day, I was part of an army of interns from North America, Europe, and Africa that poured into the Arusha International Conference Centre. While I was very excited to receive my official UN credentials, I have to admit that I was slightly less excited about my assignment. I learned that I was the only intern assigned to Ngirabatware, a single-accused case [Augustin Ngirabatware, former Rwandan minister of Planning, facing charges of genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law] which is not particularly novel and which was neither sitting nor in the judgment-drafting phase when I arrived.
Having arrived during a recess in the trial proceedings, I wouldn’t get to help determine anyone’s guilt nor would I get to wear one of those funny black robes! Due to all of these factors, my assignment did not, initially, seem particularly exciting. Luckily, I could not have been more wrong.
The exceedingly friendly American who walked me up to my shared office on the 7th floor turned out to be my outstandingly hard-working supervisor. Partially due to his efforts to give me interesting and challenging work, my internship at the ICTR turned out to be absolutely wonderful.
For my entire internship, the Ngirabatware trial was on a recess, which granted additional time to the prosecution for its case-in-chief. This extra time was deemed necessary because of the defence’s piecemeal disclosure of specific information on the alibi. As a result, our team was inundated with procedural motions from both parties during my entire stay.
While many interns spent the majority of their summer reading through witness testimony, I spent most of my time at the ICTR assisting in the preparation of decisions on motions for certification, reconsideration, judicial notice, and varying of the witness list.
While this may not sound exhilarating, my work in chambers gave me the opportunity to learn an enormous amount about the rules of procedure and evidence as well as the statute of the tribunal. It was fascinating to learn first-hand about the difficulties which arise in international criminal law regarding the protection and movement of witnesses, issues of notice, hearsay evidence, and so forth.
Though I hadn’t yet studied evidence, my supervisor was unbelievably helpful and patient while teaching me what I needed to know in order to assist in the drafting process.
In addition, because the Ngirabatware team is so small, I had the opportunity to work closely alongside an amazing panel of judges. I sat in numerous deliberations and often provided ad hoc translations between English and French for the benefit of the team. This particular task forced me to quickly expand my French legal vocabulary. I also had the opportunity to draft several memoranda on legal questions requiring significant research in the jurisprudence of the tribunal.
Aside from my actual assignments, it was fascinating to observe how this experiment in international criminal law works behind the scenes. Besides the obviously important mandate to ensure the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide do not enjoy impunity, there is a real sense in the chambers of the tribunal that the work there is laying a foundation for a broader system of international criminal law which will end impunity elsewhere.
While the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia receives much more media attention than the ICTR, the ICTR has already established a vital legacy including the first-ever enforcement of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
During my time living and working in Tanzania, I had the opportunity to explore and see a bit of the country. Local excursions I embarked on in and around Arusha included trips to orphanages and an organic coffee shamba, a camel safari, and canoeing on a crater lake surrounded by sacred caves. I took advantage of long weekends, using them to labour all the way to the top of Mt. Meru, explore Stone Town, lounge on a beach in Zanzibar, and take a safari through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
Overall, my experience at the ICTR was unbelievable, and one which I know will significantly shape my future work as a lawyer. This summer, I had the opportunity to live in Africa and work for the United Nations — two dreams I could not have imagined being realized so soon when I arrived at the faculty of law not even knowing what “1L” meant just one year ago.
Morgan Sim is a second-year student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Rights Review.