Why Good Mentors are Worth Their Weight in Gold

Good mentors are worth a lot, no matter what you’re pursuing in life.  For young people, they can help instil confidence and—if you’re willing to listen—help you circumvent certain career faux pas by sharing their own experiences. 

Quality mentors are especially important in international law, a field which is still in its infancy.  If nothing else, good mentorship is required to help teach the next generation how to sustain and continue the impressive progress that has already been made in international law in the last 50-60 years. 

I have always been extremely fortunate; wherever I have gone I have always found people who bring out the very best in me.  Whether they are peers, friends, or professional or personal mentors, these people have always encouraged me and helped me grow.  I know not everyone is this lucky, and I am equally aware that whatever success I will enjoy down the road is due in no small part to these people. 

In a way, this very diverse community of people speckled around the globe has helped me, or is helping me, come of age.  With every new experience I gain new skills and a little more self-assurance, and I am confident that, when the time comes, I will be ready to become a “professional.” 

That does not necessarily mean I plan on giving up some of my childhood habits.  I still enjoy frozen gummy bears in my fro-yo.  If you ever see me get fruit and granola on my fro-yo it’s because I’m worried you’ll judge me.  I will also always enjoy terrible puns.  My J.D. will not rob me of that simple pleasure. 

In the past few months I have been fortunate enough to encounter some amazing people.  What I find most amazing about them, however, is that they have all taken time to talk to piddley ol’ me.  Not that I don’t have confidence in my qualifications—I do.  But I also know their qualifications, and am constantly humbled that they are kind enough to take time and give me advice on my own career path.  This includes professors (a big shout-out to UGA Law here for having the best international law faculty one could ask for), judges, and supervisors. 

I would be a lot less without these people.  I hope, when the time comes, I have the foresight and wisdom to take time out of my day to talk to aspiring professionals.  After all, someday it’ll be them running the show. 

For the moment, however, the mentors I’ve encountered in the international law community give me faith that international law has a very bright future ahead of it.    

Why Gender Issues at Home Affect Sexual Violence in War

I have a friend, a young woman I really admire, who sees being a woman as a challenge to overcome.  I’m lucky to have a friend like this to look up to; I hope someday, I, too, will not lament the difficulties that face me purely because of my gender and instead view them as an opportunity to really prove my mettle. 

I’m not there yet, however.  I am still stuck on the fact that my gender makes my life and career goals at least marginally more difficult to achieve.  Not that I’m going to let that stop me, mind you, but it is a little intimidating. 

For the male audience, I am going to try and put “being a woman” into perspective.  Although, I don’t think anybody does it better than Louis C.K.  Go watch that clip, I’ll wait. 

Back?  Ok.  I am glad you had that humorous interlude, because things are about to get heavy. 

The UN estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia.  UN agencies estimate between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the three months of genocide in 1994 in Rwanda (lucky me, I’ve gotten to spend a little time familiarizing myself with accounts of some of these rapes, and these are the kinds of events that burn themselves onto the back of your eyelids and keep you from sleeping at night). 

Because I am in Bosnia, we will focus on those numbers.  We will never know exactly how many women were raped during the war here, so let’s draw a happy middle-ground between the estimated 20,000-50,000 rapes.  Exactly how much is 30,000?  Well, more than I have in my bank account and less than I’ll owe for law school when I’m done. 

But seriously.  If you spread these rapes out so only one rape occurred per day it would take approximately 90 years to get to 30,000.  I have grandparents that didn’t live that long. 

Only 5 players in NBA history have scored 30,000 points.  As of fall 2012, the University of Georgia had approximately 27,000 undergraduate students enrolled.  Sanford stadium, only the seventh largest stadium in the NCAA, holds a whopping 92,746.  Imagine attending the Georgia v. Auburn game and a third of the attendees had been raped. 

These numbers are really, really hard to put into perspective.  But even 1 is too high.  In my sick world of war crimes, I know that if you were to give me the choice between being stuck at a rape camp and death I would chose the latter.  Many women did. 

Unfortunately, sexual violence against women (and girls and men and boys, let’s not be naive) is a reality of modern conflict.  Hopefully someday this will no longer be the case.  In order for this to happen, however, we need to change our attitudes towards women in our everyday lives. 

Take a few events from my own life: meet (what I thought was) a nice Bosnian guy.  Well-educated, speaks English well, and has a good job.  For a variety of reasons, my own safety chief-among them, decide to cut off contact, and stop answering his texts, emails, phone calls, etc.  A week in we’re at about a text, email, and phone call per day, which became increasingly aggressive.  I didn’t stop to look, but there was someone that looked suspiciously like him following not far behind me through the park the other day on my way home from work. 

Or how about the guy, my peer, that really, really didn’t get what no meant?  That’s a pretty shitty position to find yourself in.  Especially when, outside of this context, he’s a nice person, even though he’s got about 100 lbs. on you.  During this experience, you have to keep in mind that you share friends and will see each other almost every day for about another year. 

My favorite, however, is when men “cat-call” women.  I have been told in the past that, “You should appreciate that while you can; when you get older it stops happening.”  Oh, I should “appreciate” the man that followed me to the grocery store the other day at 11 am making the same noises you would make to call a dog?  Let’s allow that to sink in: the same noises you would use to call an animal

Forget that.  Frankly, I don’t think anyone has made me feel worse than that man, who, in a few simple and consistent sounds, made it clear that he thought I was sub-human.  Which made it pretty clear how he would have treated me. 

Between myself and my female friends, this list could go on.  And on.  But I’m going to stop here because I think you get the idea.  The point is that, for many women, not a day goes by where they are not reminded that the majority of the world sees her of little use beyond as a physical object.  We learn to ignore that.   

If we really, truly, want to prevent rape from being a reality in conflict, than we need to take a serious look at how we treat each other in our everyday lives.  The sad reality is that the events I described above are perfectly normal experiences for women, even in the U.S. (I know you would like to blame this on “backwards Bosnia,” but again, let’s not naïve—the worst of them happened in the U.S.).  Until this changes, until events like the ones I’ve just related become viewed as abnormal and not as an everyday reality, you can expect tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of rapes in the next war. 

Wherever that war is, I sincerely hope your daughter/sister/mother/wife/girlfriend isn’t there, because statistically, her chances aren’t so good. 

The Land of False Promises

Perhaps it’s a pet peeve, and I’m a bit too preachy on the subject, but empty promises drive me bonkers.  I try extremely hard not to make commitments I can’t keep, and either way I always exhaust my options to make sure I can live up to my promises.  On a side note, I told two people I would do something in the recent past as a thank you (after getting the go-ahead from the third party this promise relied on), third-party hasn’t come through and some two months later I still wake up panicking about it.

In short: I do not like empty promises.  Either be realistic or don’t bother.

I point out my frustration with the disingenuous and empty promises in my day-to-day life not as a “woe to me” story (although, believe me, I have those moments), but instead to share another moment of profound personal realization: if I am this bothered by petty and inconsiderate slights in my day-to-day life that, ultimately, I will not remember in a year, can you imagine how the victims of the war here feel?

It may be that the international community is filled with idealists who always want to say yes and then find themselves stymied by bureaucracy (my ability to consistently misplace vowels in this word only increase my distaste for what it represents).  The opposite may also be true.  I don’t profess to have lived long enough to know.

The international community swept in and promised justice, but at no point has anyone bothered to explain that the international community was willing to ensure justice to a legal certainty.  You and I can be sure that certain people committed crimes during the war in Bosnia, but proving this to a legal certainty is an incredibly difficult task.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) says this under the “About the Tribunal” information section on its website: “The Tribunal has laid the foundations for what is now the accepted norm for conflict resolution and post-conflict development across the globe, specifically that leaders suspected of mass crimes will face justice. The Tribunal has proved that efficient and transparent international justice is possible.”

If you ask many people on the streets here, many of the indictees have not faced justice.  As the Tribunal’s president, holocaust survivor Theodore Meron, noted at the 2013 annual ASIL meeting, an acquittal is not a certificate of innocence.  But telling a woman who lost her husband and all her sons at Srebrenica that there simply was not enough evidence for a conviction is not justice.

Sure, it’s justice in the strictly legal sense of the word (some call this questionable, but for the sake of simplicity and political correctness I chose not to touch this one with a ten foot pole).  In the most colloquial sense of the word, however, I believe justice denotes a sort of healing, allowing victims a feeling of respite that may help them move on.  The ICTY is not a place for healing, and nor should it be.  But we in the international legal community have perhaps not done a good job explaining this to the rest of the world.

Serbia and Croatia, Bosnia’s neighbours, have moved on from the war in the 1990’s.  With Croatia’s recent ascension to the European Union, and Serbia not too terribly far behind, everyone here is left asking, “But what about Bosnia?”  My recent trip to Serbia revealed a country that, unlike here, shows little to no signs of the war.  I left Belgrade overwhelmed by a single question: “Why not Bosnia?  Don’t the Bosnians also deserve the investment that comes with being on the EU track?”  Where I ask why not, though, others ask why.

The Bosnian people were first victims of incredible violence in the 1990’s, and now they suffer from a plague of false promises, from the international community and their own politicians.  I completely and totally understand why they are dissatisfied (my last post on the recent protests should help illustrate this).

With this has come a pretty daunting realization: Yes, I will commit my life, in every way I can, to building a better world.  I hope someday there will be children who learn the term “genocide” as an anthropological concept, and not as a daily reality.

I am unsure, however, if I can follow the word genocide with the phrase “never again.”  I believe in those three words with all my heart, but that’s a promise that will probably be broken in my lifetime.