Corby Burger ’12 has had a rare opportunity to jumpstart his legal career before entering law school. For the last four months, he has served as a legal intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. He has been part of the team prosecuting Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić on counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws of war during the devastating Yugoslav conflicts of the early 1990s. Now in the last month of his internship, he will then travel in Europe and apply to law school, having received his bachelor’s in political science from DePauw University in May 2016. Here is a reflection on his experience:
“Over the past [four] months I have had the privilege of being a legal intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. I am part of the team prosecuting Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić on counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws of war. These allegations stem from the devastating Yugoslav conflicts of the early 1990s. As a legal intern, I work alongside accomplished attorneys in a richly multicultural environment to argue our case in what is likely the most complex ongoing criminal trial in the world. This internship has been an unmatched introduction to legal practice and broadened my perspective on law, culture, and life.
“During my senior year of college, I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, where I studied international law and armed conflict under the instruction of Danish military lawyers. I was also able to participate in a course trip to Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia. There, I learned about the realities of post-conflict resolution and international intervention from those directly involved. These interactions with humanitarian leaders, United Nations representatives, and individuals personally affected by the conflict motivated me to take action. I immediately applied for a position at the ICTY.
“The goal of the Office of the Prosecutor is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is responsible for specific criminal acts that occurred within the context of a multifaceted regional war. Securing a war crimes conviction at this level is an arduous exercise in synthesizing and extracting meaning from an overwhelming amount of information. In my case, this requires proving command responsibility between General Mladić and individual acts of sexual violence, inhumane detention, cultural destruction, and genocidal killings perpetrated by those under his control.
“When I arrived at the ICTY the Mladić prosecution team was in the process of completing their final trial brief. This is a massive document (300,000+ words) that outlines the extent of the prosecution’s evidence and conveys their legal arguments. With a mountain of work to be done, I was immediately thrown into a whirlwind introduction to legal practice. I was wrapped up in long days and longer nights of reviewing testimony, cite-checking, proofreading, collating evidence, and drafting supplemental documents; and I loved every minute of it. I was able to make a small, but meaningful, contribution to our case as I worked to pinpoint useful evidence, extrapolate on its significance, and ultimately use this information to strengthen our arguments against a man responsible for (in our view) an unimaginable scale of death and suffering.
“The Mladić trial is the last case to be brought before the ICTY. As final arguments come to an end, I realize what an honor it has been to be here during such a profound moment of the Tribunal’s 23-year history. I have met colleagues from all around the world, and I am grateful for the chance to have worked with such outstanding people in what is a truly international effort. In the next weeks I will be transferred to the case against Stanišić and Simatović, former leaders of the Serb secret police charged with murder, persecution, and deportation. This case is being tried under the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, a newly designated organ of the United Nations tasked with completing the remaining docket of the ICTY and ICTRwanda.
“My internship will end in February, and I plan to travel around Europe before returning home to New Albany in March. I am currently applying to law school, which I hope to begin next August. I am proud to have played a role in bringing a voice to the victims and justice to the perpetrators of the Yugoslav conflict. I will come away from this internship with an emboldened commitment to strengthening international institutions of justice. The global political climate seems to be shifting, collapsing downwards from the expansive weight of globalization towards insular nationalism and a rejection of internationalist principles. I will do everything I can to work against this trend. In my view, an expansive vision of prosperity and peace in the 21st century will require legal institutions that provide a legitimate and stable space for global commerce, transnational political interactions, and the enforcement of international criminal law.”