Linda Hamid is a law clerk in the Chambers of H.E. Judge Christine Van Den Wyngaert at the International Criminal Court as well as a PhD candidate at the University of Leuven (Belgium), where she is currently writing her thesis on the status, rights and obligations of unrecognised states in international law. She holds a bachelor’s degree in law (First class honours) from Babes-Bolyai University and a master’s degree in public international law (cum laude) from Utrecht University (The Netherlands).
After completing her LL.M studies, Linda worked as a legal intern in the Defence Office of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a teaching assistant in public international law at Babes-Bolyai University and a trainee at the European Court of Human Rights. She has recently been admitted to practice law in the Cluj Bar.
Lawyr.it: Who is Linda Hamid? Can you tell us a little about yourself and what made you choose a legal career?
L.H.: Oh my, that is a difficult question. I am someone who constantly reinvents herself, so who I was yesterday might not be who I am today. However, there are certain things that have always remained unchanged. Among these is my passion for justice, which I acquired at a very young age, after having experienced, to a certain extent, something that I perceive as one of the greatest injustices on earth: the war of aggression. Although I am a firm believer in the idea that the concept of law is not always the same as that of justice, it also remains true that the line between them is a thin one. When I grew older and it was time to choose a path in life, my leap from a passion for justice to a law career came naturally. There is much injustice in this world, so I have since kept very busy.
Lawyr.it: Your passion for international law is clear, judging from your current and previous activities. When did this passion occur and in what circumstances?
L.H.: Looking back, I can roughly identify three moments in my life that, in one way or another, have shaped my passion for international law. The first was in 1990, when my mother and I were forced to abandon Iraq after it had invaded its neighboring country, Kuwait, and leave my father behind to an uncertain future as a soldier in the Iraqi army. The second was in March 2003, when, together with my father, I watched in horror, on a TV screen, how my country was crumbling in flames as a result of operation Shock and Awe. However, it was only when I first studied public international law during my university years that I finally made the connection between the events that had shaped my life until then and international law. As a person whose life has been directly impacted by the lack of respect for international law during and in the aftermath of the Gulf War, I acquired the belief that the only practical foundation for rational and sustainable relationships among states is respect for international law. For these reasons I decided to dedicate myself to the study and practice of international law.
Lawyr.it: You are currently a law clerk at the International Criminal Court. Tell us a little about the institution and your work there.
L.H.: As you probably well know, the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, is the first permanent international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The Court is composed of four organs: the Presidency, the Chambers, the Office of the Prosecutor and the Registry. I currently work in Trial Chamber II for Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert, but I sometimes am also involved with the work of Pre-Trial Chamber I.
Lawyr.it: What was the most notorious/interesting case that you had the chance to experience at the ICC?
L.H.: Given that the International Criminal Court only deals with those bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, one can say that all the cases that the Court is currently dealing with are notorious or interesting inasmuch as the accused are either current or former heads of state, statesmen or military commanders and they have really all made the news at one point or another. Judge Van den Wyngaert currently serves as a judge in three situations: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. I am assigned to work on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even though the case is fast approaching its end (a final judgment is forthcoming in February 2014), I perceive my work as extremely interesting and challenging. As we like to say in our office – ‘Never a dull day!’
Lawyr.it: Before working at the ICC, you were a legal intern in the Defence Office of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and a trainee at the European Court of Human Rights. Can you tell us about your experience there?
L.H.: My experience at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was the first truly practical encounter I had with international criminal law and one that I will never forget because it forged my passion for this area of international law. What I really like about the tribunal is that it is quite different from other hybrid/internationalised criminal tribunals because it has a very narrow jurisdiction (it only deals with the crime of terrorism), it applies in part Lebanese substantive law and in part international criminal law and it is the first international tribunal to have a Defence Office as an organ of the tribunal with equal standing to the Office of the Prosecutor. All of the aforementioned have made my experience there seem quite unique to that of my fellow colleagues who at that time were also interning at international institutions and tribunals.
My traineeship at the European Court of Human Rights was quite different from the one I had at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon because I solely dealt with applications against the Romanian Government. However, the experience was extremely fruitful as it helped me acquire an understanding of aspects of Romanian domestic law that I had never really considered. Looking at cases that seldom go through three levels of jurisdiction back home before reaching the Court and analysing them through the spectrum of the European Convention on Human Rights can be a truly eye-opening experience. Moreover, I am also extremely happy that since I have joined the International Criminal Court, I have applied, on several occasions, the knowledge acquired in Strasbourg to my daily tasks at the Court, particularly with respect to issues dealing with fair trial rights.
Lawyr.it: What is your opinion on the people’s awareness regarding international situations, specifically conflicts and their impact?
L.H.: It really depends. I currently work in an environment where people are extremely aware of what happens across the world, not only because they are genuinely interested in international affairs, but also because being informed, particularly with respect to conflicts around the globe, is part of their job description. At the International Criminal Court we also have a Public Affairs Unit that makes sure to brief everyone within the Court on the daily developments in the international arena.
Lawyr.it: What motivates you in your work?
L.H.: The fact that my work, although fairly insignificant if one takes into consideration the wider picture, has an impact on a greater level: on victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, on the concept of international justice and, at the end of the day, when a judgment is rendered and a precedent is set, on the very development of public international law.
Lawyr.it: You have also been, for a short period of time, a teaching assistant in Public International Law at Babes-Bolyai University. What can you say with respect to the students’ interest in the subject?
L.H.: Actually, I found that my students were quite interested in the subject, as opposed to my generation when I remember that merely a handful of people showed genuine interest in public international law. This is probably because your generation is always connected to social media and news outlets. In a world where any type of information we need or want is literally at the tip of our fingers, staying connected to world affairs is not only easy, but also, as far as I am concerned, a pleasant endeavour.
Lawyr.it: What do you see yourself doing in the future?
L.H.: I am very happy with what I am currently doing, so to be honest I see myself continuing a career in international criminal law. I also see myself completing my PhD in the next three to four years and who knows, maybe even going back to academia, at least on a part-time basis.
Lawyr.it: And, as usual, our last question would be: what advice would you give to law students?
L.H.: To understand that nowadays career opportunities for ambitious law students are endless. We no longer live in a world where the only options for law graduates are to become a judge, a prosecutor or a lawyer. So many areas of law have expanded in the last few decades. Just think about European Law, Public International Law, International Criminal Law or International Commercial Arbitration. My advice to you is to find a niche, an area of law where there are few specialists and strive to become one. The world will then open up to you in ways you have never imagined.
This interview was originally published in the fourth issue of the magazine, which can be accessed here.