Justice Kimberly Prost
Judge Kimberly Prost was elected as Judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2018 for a term of nine years. Prior to her election, Judge Prost served as Chef de Cabinet to the then-ICC President. Before joining the ICC, Judge Prost was appointed as the first Ombudsperson for the United Nations Security Council Al Qaida Sanctions Committee. Before that, Judge Prost served as ad litem Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on a multi-accused case related to the events in Srebrenica in 1995. Earlier in her career, and at the domestic level, Judge Prost worked for the Canadian Department of Justice for 18 years. Judge Prost has also worked for the Commonwealth and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Judge Prost was profiled for ATLAS by Nolwenn Guibert, a Legal Officer in the Pre-Trial Section of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Read about Nolwenn’s career and interests at the end of this profile.
What attracted you to international law as a career? And what were your first steps?
Not only did I stumble into international law but I actually stumbled into law itself. When I was studying at university, I did not know exactly what I wanted to go on to do. I knew people who were taking the LSATs (the entry-exam into law school) so I wrote the exam as well and did well, which led me to law school. During law school, I thought I would teach but when I became a Prosecutor in my hometown of Winnipeg, I loved what I was doing.
At the time, international law did not really exist to the extent we know now. There were a series of moments and opportunities that paved the way for me to start having an international outlook on my career: I started taking on extradition work and also met Cherif Bassiouni during that period. Later, I joined Canada’s War Crimes Unit in Ottowa where we reviewed allegations of World War II crimes.
What have been the high points of your career to date?
There have been so many but what first comes to mind is my time as director of Canada’s International Assistance Group. The Group acts on behalf of the Minister of Justice of Canada as the central authority for international cooperation in criminal matters and is responsible for the administration of Canada’s extradition and mutual legal assistance programs. I was the first director of the Group and the work was new. I had to build the whole system for Canada and was dealing with fascinating cases.
When I transitioned into the international sphere, my work at the Commonwealth and UNODC were also fascinating. I make a special place for the ICTY which was a truly extraordinary time with extraordinary people.
My role as the Ombudsperson for the Al Qaida Sanctions Committee was perhaps the most difficult yet enjoyable function I have had. The role was challenging in the sense that as a domestically trained Prosecutor, I was trying to introduce general principles of criminal procedure, such as due process and the rule of law, to a highly politicised context. Yet everything was so unique and novel.
I must not forget the experience I had as part of Canada’s delegation in the negotiations to the Rome Statute prior to its adoption in 1998, which was memorable.
Part of what made these roles such special highlights in my career and life in general was the novelty aspect that pervaded all of them.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how have you tackled them?
In a way, being Canadian and with times changing, I never felt that there were certain things I could not do or certain opportunities that were closed to me as a woman. When I started in Winnipeg, there were only a handful of women and only two of us in the office. This meant that you had to work twice as hard to get recognised. However, when you did the work, the respect came quickly. My personal reward came when I became known not as the “female Prosecutor” but only as the “Prosecutor”.
While I was very fortunate to be given some fantastic opportunities, bureaucracy stymied these opportunities. After the ICTY, I had to compete for jobs for which I could not get the required traction. In the United Nations system, I applied for a D2 position at UNODC, where I had worked previously, but there were challenges in having my experience at ICTY considered in the selection process and I did not get the level of political support needed. I also had problems competing for jobs back in Canada where I was told I was too qualified. At this level, there are multiple forces working against you. This is made even worse by the fact that when you have exercised such fascinating functions in amazing places such as the ICTY for instance, the pool of interesting and rewarding jobs is very narrow. There were many disappointments during that period.
In terms of gender balance, all of the international organisations I have worked for, except the Commonwealth, have had a gender balance problem in their higher echelons. I have been extremely privileged not to be further impacted by gender inequality in my career. However, when I was Ombudsperson, my job was made more difficult not by Member States or listed individuals but from male members of the Secretariat itself and I am confident much of it related to gender bias.
Do you have any advice for those, especially women, who are embarking on a career in international law?
Get practical experience: Those first five years I spent in the courtroom as a Prosecutor in Canada before trying to embark on an international career were fundamental. Getting those practical skills, whatever they may be, is crucial.
Be ready to embrace opportunities: When I was at the mid-career level, I had the choice of staying in Canada and pursuing a satisfying career or accept the job in London at the Commonwealth. I sought advice and having discussed it through, recognising the immense value of this opportunity.
Believe in your skills and apply: One of the issues I see all the time is that there are simply not enough applications from those well-qualified women. Women need to have the confidence that they have skills equal to those of men and start doing what men are doing, i.e.: apply!
Develop networks: It is very important to create and maintain your networks. I see the development of women networks in The Hague for example as a great development in the right direction.
Judge Prost was profiled for ATLAS by Nolwenn Guibert. Nolwenn 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.