Lauren Schnyer '15 on Interning at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
Second-year-year University of Virginia law student Lauren Schnyer spent her summer at The Hague, interning at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She wrote this postcard during her time there.
This summer I have had the privilege of interning at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. It has been a wonderful experience and I am in awe of the work that the tribunal does and the incredible talent of my colleagues.
My internship is with the Office of the Prosecutor, in the appeals group. Appeals has had anywhere from six to 13 interns over the course of the summer, and approximately two dozen attorneys. My colleagues come from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities, including people from New Zealand, Australia, France, Scotland, Italy, Lebanon, China and the Netherlands, as well as the United States. Some of them have been at the tribunal for 15 years or more. Every day at the office is a cultural experience; it's not unusual to hear three or four languages in one trip down the hall. We interns learned many new slang words from one another's cultures!
I have worked on a wide variety of projects, both for the ongoing work of the appeals section, as well as for the Office of the Prosecutor's Sexual Violence Legacy Project. It is a busy time now for appeals. Since I arrived at the end of May, we've had two new judgments released, with eight defendants between them, on top of two others which were already actively underway. Additionally, the tribunal is preparing to close down at the conclusion of the current trials and is already beginning the process of transferring the appeals to the [International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which was established in 2010 to finish the remaining tasks of the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda]. Most of my work this summer has been for the Legacy Project. As part of the tribunal closing, the Legacy Project aims to preserve some of the institutional memory and context for the groundbreaking work of the ICTY in prosecuting sexual violence as an international crime.
My fellow interns and I research both substantive and procedural law in a wide variety of jurisdictions. While much of our research looks at public international law, in areas where international law is not well-defined the work of the tribunal is informed by the laws and procedures of individual countries. Interns also assist the lawyers in drafting motions and briefs, review testimony and evidence from the trials, and analyze the findings of the trial chamber. The work has a tremendous amount of variety and we deal with new and unusual legal arguments on a regular basis. In addition to our work, the ICTY provides us with lots of unique learning opportunities. The attorneys arrange lectures and presentations at least once a week on topics related to human rights and international law. Many of the presentations are by legal practitioners working in areas other than international criminal law, which gives us the chance to hear about career paths we might not have been exposed to otherwise. We also have the opportunity to sit in on the ongoing trials or watch on a live stream when interesting testimony or judgments are happening.
The ICTY is located in The Hague ("Den Haag" in Dutch), which has been a major center of international law and justice since 1899. I quickly realized that in The Hague you cannot tell people you meet that you work for "the tribunal" because there are so many! In addition to the ICTY, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda all have offices in The Hague, plus the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice for good measure.
Probably as a result of all the foreigners who come here to work, it is very easy for people who do not speak Dutch to live in The Hague. This is excellent, because I've found Dutch to be a tricky language to pick up. Although many words are spelled a bit like the English equivalents, the pronunciation is very different. The Hague is a beautiful city, with lots of parks, a pleasant boardwalk along the beach, and classic Dutch architecture. The local delicacies tend towards the "fried and slathered in mayonnaise" end of the culinary spectrum, which is always fun for a weekend afternoon snack. Most Dutch people get around by bicycle, and the excellent infrastructure here makes it easy even for a mediocre cyclist to commute and navigate the city on a bike. I have very much enjoyed my carbon-free commute, which winds along a canal and several picturesque streets lined with trees, gardens and parks. For trips into the more-crowded city center, the trams and buses are easy and efficient, and they run regularly until midnight.
Beyond just working in the same room, the appeals interns are a tight group and we spend a lot of our time together outside of work. We have regular picnics on the beach or dinners at one another's apartments. I was excited to introduce some of my European friends to the concept of a make-your-own taco bar, as good Mexican food is hard to come by here. We get dim sum together in The Hague's Chinatown almost every week, and I am pretty sure we get a discount because one of our colleagues speaks Chinese with the waiters. There is also a popular Thursday night bar review substitute called TND, which is a great way to meet other interns from outside the appeals section.
Most interns here take advantage of the generous United Nations holiday allowance to do some traveling on the weekends. I have taken trips to Paris, Barcelona, Cairo and England this summer. It has been so much fun to explore churches, historical sites, ancient ruins and open-air markets in many different cities and countries, all just a few hours' flight from The Hague. Only in the Old World will you find a basilica built in the 1400s called the "New Church" with no trace of irony! Three months seems like plenty of time, but there are still lots of places left to see on my list. It's also very easy to get to other cities in the Netherlands on the well-organized train network. I have been on day trips to explore the canals of Amsterdam, visit friends in Breda and Zeeland, and even bicycled from The Hague to Delft, home of the famous blue and white pottery. The towns and countryside here are so picturesque; every view could be a painting. It's no wonder that this area has produced so many famous artists.
My summer abroad has been a wonderful adventure and I am not ready to see it end. I have met so many wonderful people from so many different backgrounds and had fascinating experiences. I am thrilled to have had this amazing opportunity.