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!
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