Daniela Kravetz is an attorney with extensive experience in human rights, accountability, gender-based violence and access to justice in conflict and post-conflict settings. Her experience covers countries in Latin America, Africa and the former Yugoslavia.
In October 2018, Daniela was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. Prior to this, she served for two mandates as the international humanitarian law expert on the UNSC Panel of Experts on Sudan and worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), first in Chambers and later in the Office of the Prosecutor. She specialises in providing technical assistance to domestic judicial institutions in tackling gender-based atrocities and in documenting human rights abuses. She regularly lectures and writes on gender-based crimes in international criminal law, women’s rights in post-conflict societies and transitional justice. Daniela has served as an international human rights and gender expert before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and is currently on the roster of experts of the newly established Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia.
Daniela was profiled for ATLAS by Nolwenn Guibert. Nolwenn is a French lawyer who serves as a legal officer in the Pre-Trial Section of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. She is also passionate about ballet and blogs about the interactions between art and human rights.
What pulled you towards international law as a career? And what were your first steps?
I was first encouraged to pursue a career in international law by my public international law professor back in law school in my hometown of Santiago, Chile. When I embarked on my career in the mid-1990s, I found that there were very few opportunities in Chile to work in international law. It was also difficult for young lawyers to obtain funding to travel overseas and do internships in international organisations, as these were often unpaid. As a result, I did not go into international law straight out of law school. I started working as a legal representative in a centre for victims of domestic violence in Santiago. At the time, Chile had just passed the Domestic Violence Act and domestic violence was still seen as a private matter. Judges were reluctant to take measures to protect victims. In my work on domestic violence cases, I developed an appreciation for how litigation could be used to advocate for victims of violence.
I kept my professor’s advice in mind and later began seeking opportunities in international humanitarian law. This led me to accept a position in Santiago as researcher in the ICRC’s International Customary Humanitarian Law study, where I reviewed State practice in international humanitarian law under the Pinochet regime. By the late 1990s, I had a short-term opportunity to serve in Colombia on a fact-finding mission led by late Professor Frits Kalshoven. I worked as his legal assistant. This was my first mission outside of the country. The mission team conducted talks for humanitarian agreements between different rebel groups and the Colombian government, giving me insights into the practical challenges of implementing international humanitarian law in an ongoing conflict. I later continued working in litigation domestically while also providing consultancy services in various areas of law to different institutions in Chile.
In 2001, in order to combine my interests in international law and litigation, I took up a short-term position in Chambers at the ICTY. It was an exciting time to be at the ICTY as the Tribunal was in full activity. I had initially planned to spend only a few months at the ICTY and then return to Chile, but was soon offered a year-long contract. In the end, I spent over 12 years at the ICTY, first in Chambers before moving to the Office of the Prosecutor (with a period in between both jobs which I spent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a human rights officer with the UN). My years at the ICTY were a formative period in my career. I was involved in cases that set important precedents in international criminal law, worked with many talented colleagues from different backgrounds, and was able to hone my skills in advocacy, litigation and fact-finding. I feel privileged to have had this experience and to have been able to contribute to the Tribunal’s work.
What have been the high points of your career thus far?
I have had a diverse career and have worked in different regions of the world. One of the aspects of my career that I have particularly enjoyed is that my work has allowed me to amplify the voices of victims and to help shed light on issues that may not have otherwise received attention.
Additionally, in my work, I regularly come into contact and interact with individuals from different walks of life who are working to improve and bring change to their communities. It is the personal stories of resilience, courage, determination and agency that I come across that inspire me in my work. For example, the story of a young Kosovo Albanian woman who was seriously injured and lost many family members during the 1999 conflict and has now become a member of the local Parliament; that of a Colombian prosecutor who is working tirelessly to bring justice to sexual violence victims of the Colombian conflict; or that of a Venezuelan woman I met last year who suffered brutal sexual torture and later became a lawyer to fight for justice in her own case and set an example for other women.
Another aspect of my career that I enjoy is teaching. Over these past years, I have been invited by different universities to teach courses on international criminal law, human rights and gender-based violence, as a visiting professor and guest lecturer. I enjoy interacting with students and sharing my professional experiences. I think that it is important to train, mentor and motivate the next generation of lawyers to pursue careers focused on building more just societies. I also think that it is important to de-mystify career paths in international law in order to encourage students and young lawyers to pursue jobs in this field.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how have you tackled them?
In my professional practice, balancing work and personal life is a constant challenge. My work commitments often require extensive travel. As a result, I do not spend as much time as I would like with my family.
Also, we live in a world where one is required to be regularly available on various communication platforms so it can be difficult to disconnect from work and to separate private and professional life. Over time I have learned the importance of taking time off in order to be productive and effective at work, and I make the point to do so when I can.
Finally, in the information age we live in, it can be difficult to stay on top of the latest developments in one’s field of expertise. While you need to be aware of new legal developments to continue to provide services in your field, it can be difficult to sift through the sheer amount of information available when you have limited time. To stay current in my areas of work, I subscribe to various legal blogs and make time to read them, regularly participate in workshops and conferences, and have joined different communities of legal practice where information is shared in my areas of interest and expertise.
Do you have any advice for those, especially women, who are embarking on a career in international law?
Assess and focus on your talents and strengths. As a general comment, when looking for a new job, it is important to focus on opportunities that build on your talents and strengths. Maybe you are a good drafter, a natural leader, or a persuasive public speaker. I believe that job fulfilment comes from doing a job you are good at and from the recognition you receive in that role. It is also easier to progress in your job if it builds upon your strengths. Additionally, developing expertise and interests in interconnected fields can help broaden your employment opportunities. All work experience counts, even short-term opportunities.
Create your opportunities. From time to time, I am contacted by young lawyers who are seeking advice on how to move into the field of international law, and I find that most job seekers limit their job search to applying for posts on UN websites and on the various websites of international organisations and tribunals. And then they become frustrated when they do not hear back. But few people actually take the time to reflect on what motivates them to practice international law and to consider the broad range of opportunities available to them. A career in international law may mean different things to different people, and there are many options out there. There are also many creative ways of practicing international law. You need to be pro-active in seeking out opportunities that move your career in the direction you want to go. Joining a professional network and finding mentors can help you to better identify these opportunities. In my personal experience, if you put in the effort, you can be your own catalyst for your career progression.
Embrace uncertainty. A colleague of mine gave me this advice several years ago, and it has proven very useful. Career transition can be difficult and stressful. Depending on your personal circumstances, there can be many factors to take into account before moving to a new job, including your family situation and financial security. I have learned to see career transition as a process, rather than as a goal in itself, and as a period for growth and change. I have also learned that there may be no perfect next job and that you need to shape the opportunities that come your way into the job you want. When due to external circumstances or by personal choice you find yourself in a situation of career transition, view that situation as one of possibilities. And while planning is important, always leave room for the unexpected opportunities that are bound to come your way.
Continue learning: Make sure to continue learning, to develop new skills and to pursue additional studies after graduating from law school. Depending on where you would like to work, it can also be useful to learn a second language. It’s never too late! This will only make you more marketable.
And finally take care of yourself. Practitioners working in the fields of international criminal law and human rights law can be regularly exposed to traumatic cases. Depending on your line of work, this exposure can result over time in a risk of secondary trauma. This aspect of the work is often overlooked by practitioners, in particular lawyers. Many lawyers still have the perception that acknowledging the traumatic impact of their work may be seen by colleagues or supervisors as a failure to cope with one’s professional duties. It is still taboo to seek help, and international organisations do not always have clear policies and support mechanisms in place to assist staff. It is necessary to normalise the need for psychological support for those working with trauma, in particular for practitioners working directly with victims. Burn out and secondary trauma are real. Make sure that you are aware of the signs of secondary trauma and burn out and seek advice if necessary.
Nolwenn Guibert is a French lawyer. She received her law degree from the University of Paris-X Nanterre, an LLM in International Law from Washington College of Law, and another LLM in Humanitarian Law and Human Rights from the University of Paris II. She started her career as Human Rights Officer with the OSCE in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She then worked as a legal adviser to trial judges and coordinator of Chambers staff at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for 12 years. She has also served at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Chambers, the International Criminal Court for the Defence, and more recently as a disciplinary Officer for the United Nations Department of Field Support. Since May 2017, she serves as a legal officer in the Pre-Trial Section of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. She is also passionate about ballet and blogs about the interactions between art and human rights.