Laurel Baig

Describe briefly the work of the ICTY and MICT and your experience prosecuting atrocity crimes

The ICTY and its successor organisation, the MICT, are United Nations courts adjudicating individual criminal responsibility for crimes during the Balkan conflicts. The MICT is also responsible for cases concerning the Rwandan genocide, originally within the mandate of the now-closed ICTR.

In my current role, I serve as Senior Appeals Counsel on cases before the ICTY and MICT appeals chambers. My active cases include Prosecutor v. Prlić et al., the largest case in ICTY history involving six high-level Bosnian-Croat leaders, and Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadžić, a complex case concerning the responsibility of the former Bosnian-Serb President for crimes including those committed during the ethnic cleansing of Serb-claimed territories, the shelling and sniping campaign against Sarajevo, and the Srebrenica genocide. I work collaboratively with colleagues from many countries to develop and implement appellate case strategies. The appellate procedure before both courts places emphasis on written advocacy, with the parties submitting extensive written briefs and then presenting oral arguments before an international panel of five appellate judges.

What drew you to work in this field, and has it met your expectations?

When I joined the ICTR in Tanzania, I took a one-year leave of absence from my Canadian law firm thinking that I would make a contribution and then return to my domestic practice. I never expected that I would still be working for the UN more than 16 years later. I was drawn to the field of international criminal law because international prosecution is one of many ways to address gross human rights violations, by holding individuals accountable for atrocities. As this field of law is relatively new, novel questions of law and procedure arise almost every day. This ensures that our practice is continuously challenging and interesting.

Tell us about one of your most memorable or inspiring experiences while working in this field

One of my most inspiring experiences while working in this field came outside of the courtroom when I attended a meeting involving female wartime victims from all sides of a conflict. Listening to their accounts highlighted the extensive and enduring nature of the human suffering caused by war. I was vividly reminded that the full scope and scale of the harms caused by wartime criminal conduct cannot always be captured in a courtroom, where the case is necessarily narrowed to particular criminal charges against a particular individual. But hearing the victims’ accounts also reaffirmed my belief that prosecuting concrete criminal cases is a step towards addressing conflict-related harms and moving towards a better future. This experience reinforced my belief that the law is about people and their experiences, which makes our jobs as domestic and international prosecutors important and fulfilling.

What advice would you give to fellow prosecutors who are considering this area of law, particularly those who wish to move from practising domestically to internationally?

International prosecutors come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have national prosecutorial experience and others do not. I would advise anyone thinking of making this move to look closely at the types of cases we prosecute. One of the most notable distinctions relates to the size of the cases, which requires us to work in relatively large teams of lawyers and other staff. This can be a challenge to some national prosecutors who are used to being in charge of their own caseload. Of course, working in multinational teams is also part of what makes a career in international prosecutions uniquely rewarding.

Tell us about your involvement with the IAP?

I have been delighted to be involved with the IAP, through both the PSV Network and the Specialisation Course for Young Prosecutors.

The IAP’s PSV Network grew out of a project aimed at capturing the ICTY Office of the Prosecutor’s operational legacy, which was eventually published as a book: ‘Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY’, edited by Prosecutor Serge Brammertz and Deputy to the Prosecutor Michelle Jarvis. The idea behind the PSV Network was to create a forum for prosecutors at the national and international levels to collaborate and support each other. By sharing practical information, strategies, tools and other expertise, it is hoped that the PSV Network, and its website, will be a key resource for prosecutors involved in conflict-related sexual violence cases. As part of the PSV Network, I have participated in peer-to-peer workshops and training courses bringing together international and domestic prosecutors and law enforcement officers involved in conflict-related sexual violence cases.

Over the past two years, I have also taught at the Specialisation Course for Junior Prosecutors, co-organised by the IAP and the Siracusa International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights. This year I was also involved in developing the second edition of the course. Unlike many academic summer school classes, this course focuses on practical skills aimed specifically at prosecutors. It seeks to provide specialised training in substantive international law and the domestic prosecution of international and transnational crimes, as well as important aspects of international legal cooperation in criminal justice matters.

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