An Intern Discusses His Experiences at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia

“It’s Only Human to Cry, So I Did” – An Intern Discusses His Experiences at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia 

Many students are interested in working somewhere where they can gain legal experience * Somewhere where they can have an influence and change things while at the same time having an interesting work experience * Somewhere that has good human relations and dynamic and professional atmosphere * This may sound like a pipedream, but perhaps not * Internships at international criminal tribunals are one of the options the Faculty offers that may make the dream come true

“’It’s only human to cry, so I did,’” says Chanchalu, his voice cracking and his stomach churning as he stands before the tribunal. Sitting in the courtroom, I also couldn’t stop my tears. But the attorneys warn us interns not to let our emotions show… So instead of crying I’m writing, in the hope that what I write will manage to convey the story of the victims of the horrors in Yugoslavia and to bring their words to wider audiences. I hope I can help to promote the important heritage of the international criminal tribunals and to encourage a different and more positive kind of discourse in Israel regarding the goals and significance of these bodies.”


The above piece was written by Asaf Lubin, aged 27, a fourth-year student in the Faculty. Lubin participated in a three-month internship in the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. He agreed to share with us some of his thoughts following this powerful professional and emotional experience.

How did you find yourself in this program?    

"“I had already participated in a similar program at the Law Faculty run by the Minerva Center which placed students on internships in the international tribunal in Rwanda. The tribunal has completed its work and is about to be closed. At the time there wasn’t another program of this kind in the Faculty (although they are now working on a new program), so I applied independently to the International Tribunal in The Hague. I don’t receive academic credit for the internship, but the Faculty supports my participation, allowing me to take the third exam sittings and providing various other benefits. The Faculty encourages students to participate in these kinds of programs, even though they are not held under its auspices. The internships are unpaid. If anyone’s interested in applying, it isn’t as expensive as it sounds. An apartment in The Hague cost me 300 euro a month – less than in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry can also provide scholarships.”

What does the internship involve?            

“I was allocated to the prosecution against Ratko Mladi?, the former Bosnian-Serb chief-of-staff during the civil war in Bosnia in 1992-1995. My job was to prepare the prosecution file for the evidence stage. Every day we presented one or two witnesses. I had to prepare a whole group of witnesses. I’d sit with the witness, listen to their story, prepare the questions with the attorney and prepare the witness to answer the defense’s questions. I was under the authority of a woman who’s responsible for the interns and she manages the work. I also had a mentor who I met with at the beginning, middle and end of the internship. The mentor gives you tools, tips and letters of recommendation as is supposed to continue to help you as you develop your professional career.”

What does an intern’s typical day look like?   

“The working hours are from 9 am to 5:30 pm. It’s a very social working environment. The interns work in huge rooms with an average of 12 to 15 interns per room. They’re all about the same age as you and they come from all around the world. The tribunal itself operates until 2 pm. In the morning you might already have your suit on and be on your way to the tribunal, or you might be preparing files for the attorney. There are also all kinds of procedural tasks, such as preparing summaries of testimonies or what they call ‘disclosure charts’ containing the material that is disclosed to the defense.”

How do you manage to learn the procedural rules you need to follow? 

“The internship mirrors the things you learned in the Faculty. Before I’d even done my internship in Israel, I was already writing an application to the tribunal to summons a witness, filing an application to remove witness protection, and so forth. The tools I acquired in the Faculty, particularly in Gil-Ad Noam’s course on international criminal law, were very useful. During the first few weeks of the internship they provide courses explaining the system, and a lot of times a more experience intern works with a newcomer. Just before I completed my internship a new intern from Belgium arrived and she used to ask me questions. Within three or four weeks you understand everything that’s going on around you.

Did you encounter any difficulties? 

“Some of the projects, such as updating the systems, are very technical and fairly exhausting. After all, you’re only an intern. But there are moments when you can truly stop and say that you did something meaningful. For me, these were the moments when I worked with the witnesses and prepared papers that later became official prosecution documents. Another difficulty is that the work is very emotionally draining, because most of the witnesses are victims. I think that side of the work gave me a new perspective on our own history as a people and on the significance of international criminal law. One witnesses worked in a hospital and lost her legs after she was struck by a mortar. During her testimony, Mladi? interrupted and cursed her. I couldn’t believe it. You can also look at it from the theoretical angle: does someone like him really deserve due process of law? The detention center in The Hague is by the sea and the inmates have courses in arts and crafts. You find yourself wondering whether they really deserve such good conditions. But there aren’t any right answers. Your emotions become mixed up with questions of justice, revenge and deterrence – all the themes you study in the first-year course in penal law.”

Are there also interns on the defense side? 

“The defense has a separate department, a kind of public defense mechanism that is based in The Hague and sends attorneys to the various tribunals. It’s hard for me to imagine how someone can work as an intern for the defense.”

In what ways does the experience differ from international law studies in the Faculty? 

“Imagine yourself sitting a couple of meters away from someone who was directly involved in managing genocide. The name Ratko Mladi? doesn’t mean much to us, but for the average Bosnian it’s not all that different from hearing the name Hitler. You sit really close to him, and he shows no shame at all. He is very loud and the judges often threatened to remove him or accuse him of contempt of court.”

What are the main things you have learned? 

“I have learned that the wheels of justice really do turn very slowly. Before I went to the tribunal, I thought that I was going to write the next Tadi? ruling – one of the most important rulings in international law. Even at this stage I can tell you that it’s not going to happen! I’m dealing far more than I expected with the procedures that determine what can present with the witness. It become more about procedure than substance. On the first day when I saw all the Excel files of evidence I had to cope with, I wondered what I was doing here.”

What was your answer to that question? 

“As an experience it is one of the most amazing things I’ll take with me from my academic studies. Working with the witnesses was the real core of the internship: that’s where I realized what it means. What I’m doing is much bigger than some legal rule I read about in a textbook. This is the human significance of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal. I didn’t realize just how powerful this dimension is until I came here.”

Apart from the relatively low cost of living, what else does The Hague have to offer? 

“The Hague is a city of interns. At any given time there are 400-450 interns from all around the world working in dozens of different tribunals, some of which we barely think about, such as the Lebanese tribunal established following the assassination of Hariri. The atmosphere is a bit like an American college. Every day the interns go out together. They have their own weekly newspaper and of course there’s TND – Thursday Night Drinks. Apart from that, The Hague is a beautiful city. Everything’s close by. Amsterdam is only thirty minutes away and you can easily take weekend trips to German, Belgium and France.”

Who is right for this internship? 

“I’ve never been on a student exchange, so for me this was an opportunity to get to know students from around the world and to learn about different legal cultures and approaches. I think this is important for everyone, even if you aren’t planning a future in international law. For students who are interested in the field, I think it’s pretty much a must. This experience is vital for MA studies in international law and for future work in the United Nations, for those thinking of that direction. The time spent in the tribunal counts as double time because it’s already a United Nations framework. It’s also a great professional experience for anyone who’s interested in criminal law. Most of the attorneys on the team aren’t international lawyers – some of them didn’t even take the international law course in their faculty. To sum up, I would say that it’s a great experience, and if you have the opportunity – go for it!”