TANZANIA: Meeting the ICTR Chief Prosecutor

Brittany Conkle, Pitt Law '10, recently visited the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, as part of a program sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Center for International Legal Education. She shares her perspective...



I would be deliberately nonchalant if I neglected to say how excited I was to meet with Chief Prosecutor Hassan B. Jallow on our class trip to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Although other activities were planned, I knew from the minute the meeting was announced that it would be one of the highlights of my trip. It isn't every day that a person has the opportunity to meet an internationally respected prosecutor and jurist and to soak up their knowledge and experience. For a law student fascinated by international law and, specifically, the evolving state of international criminal law, this was big.

While I would normally classify my luck as uneven to bad, my fortune changed when the University of Pittsburgh hired Professor Charles C. Jalloh before the start of my third year. Professor Jalloh has worked as counsel in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Section of the Canadian Department of Justice and as the Legal Advisor to the Office of the Principal Defender at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In addition, he has clerked for two judges at the ICTR and has written insightful scholarly articles on many topics. Given his impressive accomplishments, when I saw that Professor Jalloh was teaching an International Criminal Law Seminar in my last semester as a law student, I couldn't sign up fast enough. At that time, I was unaware that there would be a special component to the class: an optional trip to the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania, over spring break. This was not just a sightseeing trip with a few hours spent at the ICTR. Rather, it was planned down to the minute and included lectures and presentations from every department of the Tribunal, in addition to informal opportunities to meet other young lawyers and ask questions about their experiences as interns at the Tribunal.

Our meeting with the Chief Prosecutor was scheduled for our first day in Arusha. We could tell that he was coming before he even made it down the hall to our conference room. There was a flurry of activity outside the door, a woman instructed us to stand when he entered, and the sound of swishing robes filled the room. Then, suddenly, there he was, a tall man with traditional Gambian robes and an inviting smile. While I'm fairly certain that all of us were nervous to be meeting with him, we were put at ease when we noticed that the Chief Prosecutor didn't seem to take himself, or the trappings of his office, too seriously.

I knew that we had only twenty minutes to meet with the Prosecutor, as he was only scheduled to briefly introduce us to the prosecution's perspective on the ICTR before leaving to attend to other business. Professor Jalloh had stressed to us that the Chief Prosecutor is exceptionally busy and that we were lucky to get any time with him. After all, this is a man who must make extremely difficult prosecutorial decisions regarding genocide and other crimes against humanity on a daily basis. Knowing all of this, I assumed that the Prosecutor would breeze in, briefly welcome us to Arusha and the Tribunal, and then go about his busy day.

However, Chief Prosecutor Jallow started the meeting by asking us to introduce ourselves. We went around the room, stated our names and, as prompted by the Prosecutor, named our specific interests in law. I was the first to introduce myself, and thought I could get by with just my name. "And would you like to work in international criminal law when you finish your schooling?" he asked. I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: "I'd actually like to work here." Inwardly, I cringed, but the Prosecutor just smiled and chuckled in a way unique to those who hire others for very desirable positions.

The Prosecutor's opening remarks centered on the ICTR and prosecution's accomplishments to date, in addition to the ICTR's goals for the future. The Prosecutor outlined the prosecution's present focus: to finish the cases remaining on the ICTR's docket, to continue tracking the eleven remaining fugitives from justice and encourage state cooperation in arresting them, to continue working with the Rwandan judiciary in preparation for the transfer of cases to Rwanda, and to preserve evidence in cases against those who have not yet been arrested. In the interest of preserving evidence for future cases, the Prosecutor can now call witnesses prior to trial in order to record their testimony in case of the witnesses' death or unavailability when the fugitive is finally apprehended. Of course, the witness is cross-examined by a lawyer from the defense, as well.

After his remarks, the Prosecutor opened the floor to questions from our group. He answered questions on the disclosure problems existing within the ICTR, as witnesses regularly provide information relevant to many separate cases that must be discovered and disclosed. He also spoke of the problems that the ICTR has faced in relocating witnesses and the difficulty of getting countries to accept them. Finally, he talked about the improvement of Rwanda's judicial system and his hope that the Tribunal judges will allow cases to be transferred to Rwanda.

I could tell from the rapt expressions around the room that the other visitors were also enjoying this rare opportunity to hear from someone who makes such difficult decisions. But what made the meeting truly exciting was that the Prosecutor really seemed to enjoy himself. He encouraged our questions, gave thoughtful and seemingly candid answers, and appeared thoroughly interested in what eleven law students from the University of Pittsburgh had to say. As a result, twenty minutes turned into forty-five. It was only after he finally left the room and we all exhaled that we realized our good fortune. It is a rare opportunity to spend time with a man who is changing and advancing international criminal law every day in his capacity as Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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Student Commentary publishes accounts of law students' first-hand experience with law and law-related events. Student Commentary contributors come from all over the world, sharing personal stories on legal matters ranging from the G-20 summit protests in the US to the plight of migrant workers in Taiwan.

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