Penn State Law students get international criminal law experience

Some law school students take internships with local prosecutors' offices to help go after bad guys. 

The work is demanding and fulfilling, but you don't need a passport. Nor do you go after some of the most notorious criminals in the world. 

Two Penn State Dickinson Law students did. Third-year Dickinson Law students Malcom McDermond and Olivia Phillips completed internships at the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, The Netherlands, as part of the school’s International Justice Program.

“This semester-long program offers second- and third-year Dickinson Law students the opportunity to gain legal experience in a global setting,” Professor of Law and International Justice Program Advisor Dermot Groome, told the school's news service.

Groome is a former senior trial attorney at the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), so he's been in the thick of it. So have the students. “Students work alongside senior prosecutors and participate in some of the most significant international criminal cases being prosecuted today," he said.

Indeed, check this out. The school notes that Phillips worked on one of those high-profile cases during her time at the IRMCT, which maintains the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the ICTY, and strives to reflect best practices in the international criminal justice field. She reviewed judgements and helped draft the Response Brief in the appeal of General Ratko Mladić, The Prosecutor v. Ratko Mladić — a case led by Groome, in which judgement was rendered in November 2017 following a more than five-year trial.

Mladić was the commander of the Army of Republika Srpska and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of over 7,000 Muslim men and boys; for leading the nearly four-year siege of Sarajevo, in which thousands were killed; and for the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs from large areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For Phillips, working at the IRMCT was a once in a lifetime opportunity, he told the school's news service. “Being able to prosecute people who have committed horrific crimes was appealing to me, even though normally I'm not very prosecutorial-in-nature.”

McDermond spent his time reviewing large amounts of evidence for The Prosecutor v. Stanišić and Simatović, a case involving former chief of the Serbian State Security Service Stanišić and his assistant Simatović, who were charged with committing crimes against Croats and Muslims during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina.

“I analyzed evidence, and read testimony from witnesses and tried to distill it down as best as possible to ensure everything the prosecution was tendering was correct,” said McDermond. “While it felt repetitive at times, I found it very interesting to work with that kind of evidence, and I understood how critical my work was to the case.”

In addition to receiving hands-on instruction in international criminal law, students are exposed to different legal cultures. They learn how to manage large, complex trials, as well as alternative approaches to the introduction of trial evidence.

“Studying abroad helps broaden your world view,” said Phillips. “Even in law school, that much is true. There is a lot that you don't know as an undergrad that you learn once you get to law school. During law school, you find that there’s even more you don’t know. I wasn’t always interested in criminal law; it found me.”

Both students say the experiences they had abroad have helped them better understand their career options and determine if they want to practice international criminal law.

“When I take a step back and really think about the experience I had, I realize how lucky I am,” said Phillips. “I lived abroad in law school, I completed an amazing internship in a different country, I contributed to a major war criminal’s case, and I even got to see him in person — it’s all just amazing.”

Pictured: Ratko Mladić