What EIJI Means to Me: Kate

Meet Kate, another Senior Legal Researcher at EIJI! She is a fourth year in the LLB Law programme from the United States. Read about her inspiration for joining EIJI here.

I can pinpoint the exact date (3 July 2014) and place (the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague) where my interest in human rights became more than just a passing academic curiosity. (I’ve had many of those, ranging from Egyptology to the epidemiology of the Black Plague.)

I had travelled with a group of students to Netherlands to watch Ratko Mladić, a Bosnian Serb General, on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). One of the students I had travelled with to the Netherlands was ethnically Croatian, and she switched her feed from English to BCMS, Mladić’s native language, with tears streaming down her cheeks. Mladić was eventually found guilty of genocide and other charges for his actions in Srebrenica.

My father is a lawyer in the US and growing up, I had some impression that legal proceedings were dry and uninteresting. The proceedings at the ICTY were far from that. Imagine: a group of American students, who had been so boisterous even walking one by one through the metal detectors at the entrance, were suddenly solemn and serious. The observation room demanded both attention and reverence. As we were listening to victims’ testimonies, my classmate listened to them testifying in their common native language (BCMS) and cried quietly across the room, and behind the glass, the only partition between us and the general whose genocide we had learned about only a week before. He looked so ordinary – he could have been one of our grandfathers.

It is a moment I will truly never forget. When I came home to the US from the Netherlands, I saw my home country in another light. I had been told, with eye rolls from my instructors, about how the US refused to play by the rules set by the international community, that the US had refused to join the ICC, that our presidents had been war criminals and evaded justice, with Obama’s term being no different, and that we refused even to join the Convention on the Rights of the Child. An ICJ official remarked to us, in the halls of the Peace Palace, that our country never paid when we lost.

I came home ashamed to be an American, a feeling that persisted as my education continued: only a few weeks after my return to the US, a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which triggered protests across the US and was one of the (white) police officer-related shootings that brought the Black Lives Matter movement into American public consciousness.

At school in the US, I thought about the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and wondered why I had never heard of the ethnic cleansing there: no one had ever told me they were still finding bodies in Srebrenica almost 20 years later. I had only vague memories of learning about Darfur and Guantanamo years earlier. I knew that the country I lived in, that I had considered my home, had committed and been complicit in things I found horrific. To make matters worse, I wasn’t being taught about them, even at my academically rigorous high school.

Social justice and human rights are concepts that are deeply important to me. I will always strive to further my education on atrocities and impunity that began with a just visit to the ICTY in 2014. I come from the United States, a country with a legacy of human rights abuses it hides under a veil of “liberty and justice for all”.

It’s an honour to be part of the EIJI because I am an American, and my country (and its President) believe the ICC is our enemy. I believe working with NGOs on matters related to international justice as a student allows me to move past mere education and put my ideals into practice, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so!

*These posts reflect personal experiences and thoughts. While we value the freedom of speech and expression, we do not tolerate personal attacks and/or hate speech. Inappropriate comments will not be tolerated and as such, will be reported and removed from the page.*

What EIJI Means to Me: Dorcas

Meet Dorcas, one of our Senior Legal Researchers! Read about her experience in EIJI thus far.

Hi! I’m Dorcas Baah and I am a third year Law student at the University of Edinburgh. I’m originally from Ghana but I have been living in Glasgow with my family since childhood, before eventually moving to Edinburgh to study here. I have studied International Law at Ordinary and (currently) Honours level to date. I am a Senior Legal Researcher at EIJI and I’ve honestly loved being the newest addition to the team. I think that being African (especially in an educational institution where Africans are the minority group) generates an innate appreciation of internationality and global advocacy that propels me to get involved in university projects, initiatives and campaigns that celebrate, advocate for or support internationals (students, organisations and institutions alike). My role at EIJI provides a way that I can directly contribute to a world that better supports those who have been mistreated by the very powers intended to protect them, by holding those culpable to account at the international level, as well as to contribute to the betterment of the international system as a whole. I don’t take my involvement lightly at all, and I really appreciate being able to live out my passion.

One thing that I really value EIJI for is providing me with an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary: to partake in a project that not many third years, or even undergraduates, can say they have achieved during their time at university. For me, working with EIJI isn’t just something to plaster onto a CV; it is a practical expression of my passion to contribute to something much bigger than me. And not only that, it has also opened the door for me to seriously consider going down the advocacy route or alternatively to pursue a path of international criminal law. There aren’t many legal work experience opportunities outside the typical vacation scheme route, which often place a heavy emphasis on commercial law, so EIJI has definitely broadened my perspective and remined me that my future is unlimited, unrestricted and mine for the shaping.

I think something that particularly stuck with me throughout the drafting of my first report alongside the team was the sheer magnitude of what we were doing. The small prospect that the concluded research could be published or even used to aide a real-life case was mind-blowing. I had to keep reminding myself of the impact of the work being conducted. Every preliminary examination and case we read and dissected wasn’t just a statistic or fact-file; these were (or in some cases, had been) real lives, real people, real victims, real survivors. I would like to think that in my own small way I contributed to the amplification of their voices as well as to the destabilisation of regimes that support impunity through the research we have conducted. Further, our team served as a link for an NGO who needed research to explain certain ICC principles to enable them to be better equipped to understand its processes in the future. Thus, from my little pocket of the world, I served as a plaster for one wound of the international legal community and EIJI allowed for this to be possible.

EIJI has also given me access to a network that was previously unavailable to me. From the mentors, to the contacts at the university, to the clients from the NGOS, there is a huge range of people that I have and will encounter just by virtue of my involvement in the initiative. Linked into this idea of an expansive and comprehensive network, is also the fact that EIJI is a community; a community of like-minded and driven individuals. I think that while the community EIJI provides definitely encompasses its network, it goes further and arrives at a more personal and intimate level. EIJI provides and takes steps to establish a friendly and inclusive environment where I feel that my opinion is valued and respected. Everyone is so quick to encourage, commend and help when necessary. I think this respect-based model of working together as a team is engrained into the ethos which we are trying to develop. My team’s readiness to applaud, celebrate and support my successes (either within or outwith EIJI) is a testament to the communitarian and inclusive space I have found here.

I am really grateful to be a part of such a hardworking, passionate and welcoming team!

*These posts reflect personal experiences and thoughts. While we value the freedom of speech and expression, we do not tolerate personal attacks and/or hate speech. Inappropriate comments will not be tolerated and as such, will be reported and removed from the page.*