Shanshan Xiao LL.M. '08: Interning for the ICTY at The Hague

June 15, 2009

I started my internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in March and have been working for almost three-and-a-half months. I am working for Judge Liu Daqun and his legal assistant on the Appeals Chamber. What I have done most so far is commenting on draft decisions and a judgment of the Appeals Chamber, which I enjoyed greatly and found challenging but interesting.

Xiao, center, with office mates
Xiao, center, with office mates

Perhaps American students have been trained to think critically since high school, if not earlier. Unlike them, I was not used to think critically until after I went to UVA Law for LL.M. studies. So at the beginning of my internship, I was still not confident enough to criticize drafts prepared by junior and senior legal officers (mostly native-English speakers) and approved by the judge(s). Gradually, however, I have become more confident and been able to make suggestions on substantial points, besides the form. It is exciting and rewarding to see my comments, especially on the substance, being accepted and reflected into the final judgment and decisions.

Because of my involvement in commenting on the draft appeal judgment of the Mrkšić case, I got my first chance to sit in the tribunal's courtroom to see the judges deliver the judgment early in May. It was a complicated and indescribable feeling to witness the accused, whose names I had encountered numerous times in legal documents, be convicted of some of the most serious crimes under international law and be sentenced.

People here at the tribunal are very nice and truly diverse. The judge I am working for not only encourages me to think critically on legal issues, but also gives me advice on life philosophy. Similarly, whenever I come up with a good comment, my supervisor never stints her praise ("I like it cross my heart," to quote her words). There are about 100 interns in the tribunal too, many from the United States and European countries. In my office, there are/were interns from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Brazil, Australia and South Africa. We share a lot of joy in the office, sometimes hang out on Fridays after work for a drink, and have dinner or barbecue together on weekends. It is fun to hang out with nice young people with diverse backgrounds, especially because we all have a common interest — international law. All of these also remind me of my LL.M. year at UVA.

Xiao in Bruges
Xiao with friends
Xiao celebrates Queen's Day in Amsterdam with friends.

As pretty a place as it is, The Hague is called the city of peace and justice. A lot of international legal conferences are held in the tribunal, the Peace Palace where the International Court of Justice sits, and the International Criminal Court. Interns are often invited to join for free. In the past two weeks, thanks to a joint program between the tribunal and West Point, I also attended several lectures given by the legal officers of the tribunal, on topics such as the rules and procedures of the ICTY, the role of the defense counsel in the ICTY, self-representation and command responsibility.

Apart from work, I also did some traveling. I went to Amsterdam on Queen's Day to experience the Dutch "orange sea"; went to Brussels, Bruges and Ghent at the end of May to see what Victor Hugo regarded as "the most beautiful square in the world" and the medieval European towns. Now I am reading for my next trip to Paris in two weeks and am planning to go to Prague, Munich and Italy this August.

I am very glad that I learned of this internship opportunity through Professor [Deena] Hurwitz and am thankful to Professor [Michael] Klarman and Professor [David] Martin, who wrote me reference letters. I am looking forward to having more fun with the remaining time in my internship.

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