THE HAGUE - Third-year student Kenn Kern, '03, spent his last semester of law school at The Hague clerking for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He was assigned to Team 5, the team prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic, the first head of state tried by an international criminal tribunal.
The former Yugoslavia territory (now Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the Republics of Slovenia and Croatia) experienced four wars in one decade and more than 200,000 civilians were estimated to have been victims of war crimes. The ICTY was created in 1991 to investigate and prosecute serious crimes in the territory from 1991 onward.
Q: International law professor Steve Ratner calls the Milosevic trial the biggest war crimes prosecution case since Nuremberg. How does it feel to start your legal career of with what might be your biggest case?
I may have started my legal career with the biggest case I will probably ever be associated with, all before graduation. It is an honor and privilege to be here and I am thankful to the University of Texas School of Law and its professors, especially Steven Ratner and Sarah Cleveland, for preparing me, legally and professionally, for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'm also thankful to former Georgetown Law professor Judge Robert A. Katzmann, now with the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, with whom I started my study of law and government.
Q: What kind of work environment did you participate in at the Tribunal?
The ICTY is a unique work environment where lawyers, translators, investigators, criminal analysts, leadership researchers, and military experts combined in teams to investigate and prosecute violations of numerous war criminals since 1991. More than 70 nations were represented. The tribunal has fifteen clerks from all over the globe representing experience with a common law system and a civil law system.
Q: What projects did you work on at the Tribunal?
There were a number of different projects available to clerks, all very interesting. I was assigned to the Milosevic case. We started each morning with an 8:15 a.m. meeting to discuss relevant legal and political matters affecting the Milosevic case. For instance, in Belgrade, Former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated while I was clerking. That political matter deeply worried some witnesses who were requesting protection. I was in charge of drafting those orders. The day would be then filled with numerous tasks related to the Tribunals work. For instance, I drafted a speech for Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte to give to the diplomatic community. I interviewed a convicted war criminal in a proofing session at the UN detention center in preparation for his testimony to the Milosevic trial chamber. I helped edit the closing brief in the Bosanski Samac case (which addressed war crimes perpetrated by the members of the municipal Crisis Staff and the Yugoslav National Army in Bosanac Samac) and helped prepare the indictments against Jovica Stanisic and Frenki Simatovic, the former heads of the Serbian Security Department, who are accused of controlling the paramilitaries that committed murder, torture, persecution, and forced deportation. And during the Milosevic trial I sat second chair and passed redirect questions to Prosecutor Dermot Groome at the trial.
Q: What are your thoughts on the impact of the Tribunal? How effective has it been in bringing justice to the people of the Former Yugoslavia?
The ICTY and the United Nations deserve enormous credit for their efforts in investigating and prosecuting the war crimes experienced in the former Yugoslavia.
The Tribunal produces three important things. First, the Tribunal develops an accurate historical record. This record is enormously important as the nations involved in these wars consider the war to date back to the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Each side up to now has had their own version of historical facts with no independent counterweight.
Second, the Tribunal affords direct and indirect victims of the crisis an opportunity to heal and move on with their lives. I saw crime victims have the weight of the world lifted off their shoulder once they testified; some victims waited seven years for this burden to be lifted. The healing occurred both for people and for the nations involved. In Serbia and Montenegro, for example, there is an enormous desire among citizens to improve their standard of living (to integrate with Western Europe), to move beyond the negative impacts of nationalism, and to honor their Former Prime Minister who gave his life in an effort to stop the incessant criminal activity in Belgrade and to turn over powerful citizens accused of war crimes to the Tribunal, including Milosevic, Stanisic, and Simatovic.
Third, and most significantly, The Tribunal serves as a warning signal to heads of state and others that violations of international humanitarian law will not be tolerated. It is a symbol of international will and effectiveness in addressing crimes that once went unaddressed by the international community. The Tribunal stands for the proposition that borders will not serve a barrier to its investigation of and prosecution of certain criminal acts.
About Kenn Kern:
Kenn Kern received his J.D., with honors, from the University of Texas School of Law. He holds an M.A. in American Government from Georgetown University (with honors) and a B.A. from the University of Dallas (with honors). A native of New York City, he served as a Teaching Quizmaster, an editor on the International Law Journal, the Law School Representative to the University Student Government, a teaching assistant to Admiral Bobby R. Inman at the UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs, and a member of the National Moot Court Team. Kern was one of seven students selected, University-wide, to the UT Friars Society in Fall 2002. In August, Kern will begin his judicial clerkship for the Honorable Judge Thad Heartfield of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas.