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July 2008: Internship at the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Internship at the Special Court for Sierra Leone
I have spent almost two months in Africa interning at the Trial Chamber I at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. I left New York the day after my last final, spent 4 days at home, and then I was off to Freetown, Sierra Leone. I met up with a Pace alumnus who has been working at the Special Court since last year and coincidently was on the same flight to Freetown. Getting from the airport to Freetown was a little challenging, especially after the Hovercraft crashed into the waiting area right before we were supposed to get on. Yet, in the end, we managed to get to our destination.
The other Pace intern and I found housing pretty quickly. We were glad that we could live at the same place and we were especially excited that the house was so close to the Court. The first week of work was a little chaotic because we didn't have an office yet. Further, we had to get familiar with the case, so our first assignment was reading, reading, and reading. We were going to work on the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) case, so we had to read the Indictment, witness statements, etc.
I was glad that I had time to get more familiar with the case before going into court. It was much easier to follow the witnesses because I actually knew what they were talking about. Going into court the first time was a little scary but very exciting. I had to wear the robe and bib (even though, normally, I wouldn't be allowed to wear it since I haven't passed the bar yet, but… this is Africa). Once the judges came into the courtroom we bowed and took our seats. My job was to summarize what the witness said and later put it into a computer program called Case Map. It sounds a lot easier than it is, but following a witness who speaks broken English or listening to the interpreter because some testified in Krio was not that easy. In addition, I didn't know how to spell most places, like Kailahun, Koinadugu, Magburaka, etc. Yet, once the transcript was available, I was able to go back to my summary and fill in the gaps and check the spelling. Trial has now ended and we are starting to do compilations soon so that we can start writing the judgment.
I also had to write a paper about a topic of my choice. Since I am getting 6 credits, I had to write a significant piece of legal work. However, anything I write for the Court is confidential so I picked the topic "child soldiers" to write about. I have great respect for the night students now because writing this paper after a full workday was really exhausting. We are expected to work on weekends as well, so writing this paper was the last thing I wanted to do in my spare time. It was due in the middle of the internship which, on the one side, was good because now it is off my mind. Yet, on the other side, I feel like I haven't learned enough to really write a good paper.
At least now, I have time to relax and enjoy the beauty Sierra Leone has to offer. The beaches here are amazing. It is such a beautiful country and a shame that the civil war has destroyed so much. The poverty here is very depressing, but the people are still so happy. I'm excited to explore more of the country and West Africa in general. My friend and I have booked tickets to Senegal and I can't wait to see another West African country. I heard Senegal is completely different, but also beautiful. This will probably be our only travel outside the country because there is so much work to be done and we already had to fight to get a week off.
Overall, I am so grateful for this experience. Besides learning so much about international criminal law and the legal work involved, I am learning about a completely different culture. I advise everyone to do something unique during their first summer in law school because it's so rewarding and an amazing growing experience.