Law Student Interns with International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

September 19, 2005
Gilhuly and Laufer
Gilhuly and fellow intern Greg Laufer on a break from their work in the Prosecutor's office.

Spending the summer interning for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, strengthened third-year law student Jennifer Gilhuly's commitment to human rights, but also opened her eyes to how lawyers can affect the results of war crimes tribunals — and sometimes bring lofty ideals down to earth.

"I had this sense of international criminal law, and I really put the work on a pedestal — I didn't understand the human side behind it," said Gilhuly, an Atlanta native. "I didn't understand until I got there how these things got put together."

The ICTR was created by a charter from the U.N. Security Council to prosecute perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide that occurred in 1994 as a result of conflict between the Tutsi and the Hutu ethnic groups. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days during the genocide.

Perpetrators of genocide
Perpetrators of genocide are let out during the day in order to earn a living in Rwanda, although they are required to wear pink jumpsuits.

community court

There is not enough room to try every defendant in the tribunal, so some are tried in traditional community courts like this one.

Gilhuly served on a prosecutorial team trying several high-level Rwandan government ministers in Prosecution v. Bizimungu et al., working alongside several attorneys, two case managers, and fellow interns who came from countries around the world. Their small numbers allowed her to take a significant role in co-writing and compiling briefs and other materials used in the trial.

"Our argument was that they could have stopped the genocide if they wanted to, but the defense counsels are likely going to argue that the defendants didn't have control over the country — the country went crazy," she said. "Because they were upper-level ministers, they didn't necessarily carry out a lot of these actions. It's a tough case to make because we didn't have a lot of instances of them standing out at a roadblock physically carrying out the genocide themselves."

Soon after she arrived, the four defendants in her case filed motions to dismiss on various counts of the indictment, usually for lack of evidence. One of her team's main projects was creating a 340-page document that responded to each of the defense's allegations and summed up the prosecution's case. Because of the workload, interns contributed substantially to the case, compiling a 200-page chart documenting evidence from witness transcripts.

Gilhuly also worked on a section relating to rape as a war crime.

ICTR courtroom
An ICTR courtroom.

"Genocide is not just about killing," Gilhuly explained. "If you look up the definition of 'genocide,' it talks about destroying a group in whole or in part, and 'destroy' is much more than just 'kill.' I think they chose the word 'destroy' specifically for that reason. When you actually set out to destroy a group, you want to eliminate it as a community, you want to undermine its social cohesion, and part of the way they did that was not only by killing people, but also by raping women, dehumanizing them, humiliating them publicly."

Gilhuly said she felt her all-male team was not giving the rape charges the attention they deserved, so she approached the senior trial attorney about writing a section on rape as a form of genocide for inclusion in the report.

"They ended up including it, and for me, that was very important," she said. "I don't think it would have been in there if I hadn't written it."

Gilhuly said her team had trouble presenting much of their evidence during the trial because the indictment had many problems and the team was unable to amend it.

"I learned so much in terms of building a case and structuring a case based on this experience because we had so many problems with the pre-trial phase of our case," she said.

Despite international participation, language barriers were minimal among tribunal attorneys and interns because most spoke English. In the courtroom, however, language differences posed considerable challenges because all components of the trials are simultaneously translated into English, French, and Kinyarwanda by translators who sit behind the legal teams.

"It slows down the process a lot," she said.

Gilhuly was surprised by how sharply the legal team's work contrasted with the academic writing and scholarship she encounters in her classes.

"Everything is much faster," she said. "Everything is just sort of thrown together."

She also hadn't expected the broad range of personalities she encountered among the legal teams and judges.

"These people are sitting in on these cases for years. They get really comfortable in the courtroom, so you actually have personalities there," she explained. "There's still the seriousness of the situation, but there's also a human side to these tribunal mechanisms."

Gilhuly said she was attracted to the opportunity at the ICTR because of her interest in human rights.

"I had done human rights work in Africa the year before in Liberia, but it wasn't as focused on law — it was more human rights policy and activism," she said. "I wanted to do something this summer that was very legally oriented, and I have an interest in all the tribunals and the transitional justice mechanisms because that was a big topic in Liberia."

Gilhuly was the first student selected for a U.Va. summer internship with the ICTR.

"We were looking for people who had demonstrated experience with international law, and also especially with criminal law," said Deena Hurwitz, director of the Law School's Human Rights Program.

The ICTR provides no funding for the position, but Gilhuly secured a $5,000 Public Interest Law Association grant that covered a considerable portion of her expenses.

Although she worked in Tanzania, Gilhuly was able to visit Rwanda during a long weekend, a trip that "helped me understand how the genocide happened," she said.

She also made valuable contacts. "One of the lawyers I became friends with had been on the defense team for [former Yugoslavian President Slobodan] Milosevic at the ICTY, and being able to have lunch with him and talk to him was just incredible."

Gilhuly said her time abroad this summer shaped her course selection for the fall semester.

"I had to register while I was over there for my classes, and I ended up taking classes I didn't expect to take," she said. "I'm taking a seminar in criminal procedure. I want to know how to write motions and do this sort of work because I realize how much it can affect your case if you don't draft these things well."

Similarly, her experiences with the ICTR have convinced her of the necessity of practicing in the United States, possibly in a district attorney's office, before considering returning to Africa.

"In order to go there and actually work in a way that I think is really helpful and useful to the people there, I really need to get a strong grounding in my own legal system," she said.

In the meantime, Gilhuly plans to keep tabs on the continued proceedings of the ICTR, and especially on her case, which will continue for several more years.

"I made a pact with one of the other interns that we're going to go back for the judgment day and be there when they read out the judgments in the courtroom," she said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

Media Contact

Mary M. Wood
Chief Communications Officer / (434) 924-3786

News Highlights