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2 Strathmore Law students internship experiences at the Hague, Netherlands

My classmate and I recently, completed a short-term internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ICTY. Asked to describe my experience, I am hesitant to give a single word for it – even a few paragraphs would not do justice. Maybe I should begin by stating that we visited Hague during one of its warmer autumns!


The orientation on the first day at the ICTY took no more than two hours. Within this brief period, we had been taken around the relevant offices and given whatever was required to achieve the tasks we would be engaged in. Everything had already been set up; the schedule had been planned to the last detail – it seemed like a carefully built machine whose processes were in perfect synchrony. This was enough to wake us up to the reality of working in an involving workplace as the ICTY Prosecutor’s office. The near-perfect co-ordination of the various tasks by the staff members (numbering at least twenty) requires everyone to put in extra effort – to be diligent.


While the sound of machine-like timeliness and punctuality smacks of boredom and gloom (slavery?); a warm, cheerful and relaxed atmosphere pervaded the office. Everyone was generous enough to spare the other a warm cup of coffee or a “hello” at the very least. It must be taken into consideration that there were more than ten nationalities in the immediate office of the Prosecutor. The smiles broadened even more whenever we were introduced as students from Kenya. The obvious question that we would have to grapple with was: are you marathoners? It is not surprising that Matthias, one of the guards manning the security booth would call out excitedly whenever he saw my classmate or I: “Habari yako!… Kazi njema!” arguably the only Swahili words in his pre-dominantly German tongue.


Most amazing of all was the simplicity with which the staff members conducted themselves and worked. Considering the gravity of their work and the importance of the Tribunal in the international arena, the officers worked without much ado about their positions or status. They worked with a commendable measure of professionalism and integrity despite their top-of-the-table qualifications that anyone else would be excused to boast about; they worked diligently.


Working in a multi-national setting can be quite challenging. The differences of culture, language, beliefs or political opinions may off-set positive communication between workmates and prevent the achievement of common goals. I very much admired the spirit of understanding and rapport that had developed among the officers to the extent that they could work together with minimal friction.


The tasks assigned to the interns at the office were quite engaging and sometimes, very challenging. Fortunately, the support of the staff members and the availability of convenient research facilities enabled us to overcome any hurdles. I was amazed at the wealth of jurisprudence that the Tribunal has generated over its relatively short span of time – all owing to the diversity and co-ordination within its three organs; the Office of the Prosecutor, the Chambers and the Registry. Records are well preserved and indexed; in fact, I would not be surprised that any bit of information/record that ever went into the Tribunal (there are millions of them!) can be found in a matter of minutes whether through the comprehensive softcopy records within the database or through the physical records at the evidence unit. The Evidence Unit at the Registry of the Tribunal contains millions of documents so well indexed and stored. At the time of our visit, the evidence unit personnel were engaged in the audit of the records in the evidence vault.


At the end of it, I don’t even have a word to describe the experience. Certainly, I have learnt a lot and my career path clearly defined – in that sense, I could call it – life-changing; I have met so many people who shared their own experiences and gave me helpful tips. I learnt that a grand tribunal can only do so much in the peace-building process; it falls more on the perpetrators of the crimes, the victims and the rest of society to take steps towards peace and reconciliation. The justice process is, nevertheless, an integral component of the world peace.


Patrick Kimani: Strathmore Law School student