An Interview with International Criminal Prosecutor Arthur Traldi

The Human Security Law Center and Comparative Legal Student Scholars hosted Arthur Tradli at William & Mary Law School in October 2019, where he gave a presentation on his experience in international human rights and criminal law. He spoke with Editors Sean Tenaglia and Marisa Perfetti of the Comparative Jurist.

Comparative Jurist: Can you briefly describe the positions that you have held?

Arthur Traldi: After graduating Georgetown Law, I clerked for Judge Arthur Zulick in Monroe County, Pennsylvania; the War Crimes Chamber of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Justice Debra Todd of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; served as an Associate Legal Officer in Chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and served as an Associate Legal Officer, a Legal Officer, and a Trial Attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Currently, I work for myself. I consult with different organizations on capacity-building, rule of law, investigation and litigation issues in a variety of different jurisdictions.

Comparative Jurist: Which position has been the most interesting to work on?

Arthur Traldi: I found the most interesting and challenging to be my work on the Ratko Mladić trial.

Comparative Jurist: What encouraged you to pursue a career in international law? In particular, how did your education contribute to your interest in the field?

Arthur Traldi: I’ve been fortunate opportunities in this area presented themselves and have always been passionate about working on very serious criminal cases. I was really lucky to go to William and Mary and then to Georgetown Law – both schools that really encourage interest in the world around them and rigorous, independent thinking about transnational challenges.

Comparative Jurist: What advice do you have for current students looking to break into the field of international law?

Arthur Traldi: First and foremost, figure out how to become a good lawyer – and pay off your student loans. You’re most likely going to be able to do that best by starting out in domestic practice.

Second, develop a specialization. Learn an area of the world, a language, or the ability to interview particular types of witnesses at a high level. Show you add value over other junior-level attorneys in an objective way.

Third, whatever your specialization, learn to write and to anticipate how factfinders think. Those are essential skills for anyone doing legal work in any field and we don’t get exemptions just because we’re doing international work.

Comparative Jurist: You worked extensively on the Ratko Mladic prosecution in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia — what was one breakthrough moment, personal or professional, you had while working on the case?

Arthur Traldi: There were hundreds. I grew enormously personally and professionally. But I will remember working on our first witness with another William and Mary alum, now-Judge Camille Bibles, for a very long time. I learned a lot from her empathy for the witness and her skill in court.

Comparative Jurist: Can you describe the biggest obstacle you faced?

Arthur Traldi: In a case like that, there are hundreds of challenges. The factual complexity is hard to overstate. Thousands of admitted exhibits – thousands of murder victims – hundreds of witnesses – in the context of millions of pages of relevant material in the evidence collection. Keeping it all straight is an enormous job.

Comparative Jurist: How did you overcome this challenge?

Arthur Traldi: Long hours and working as part of a great team. I learned a lot about how different parts of a team fit together and all the unseen people that make everything work – like our case manager, who was a rock, and the interpreters who provided near-simultaneous interpretation in court, who in many ways were the ones with the best understanding of what was really happening.

Comparative Jurist: Can you explain the key differences between the trial and appeals process in the US court system and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia?

Arthur Traldi: Probably the most significant difference is that all trials are effectively bench trials. This affects the procedure in trial a great deal, as it does in domestic court.

The other difference that’s most relevant day to day is just the enormous factual complexity of the average case.

Comparative Jurist: Would any of these differences lead to a different outcome for the defendant?

Arthur Traldi: Not if we do our jobs right.

Comparative Jurist: If you could change one thing about the process in the tribunal to make it easier to prosecute, what would it be?

Arthur Traldi: Several international courts have neither a single Supreme appeals chamber nor a procedure for empaneling the entire roster of appeals judges to conduct an en banc review that would provide clarity on a legal question. Given the length of proceedings, over the life of an institution it might be better for all parties to have the additional certainty provided by rulings from a court of final appeal or an en banc appellate panel, as opposed to having situations where technical legal questions that shape what evidence is presented like the elements of a mode of liability may vary depending on which panel is assigned to hear a case.

I wouldn’t change anything just to make it easier to prosecute, though. Prosecuting – especially for very serious charges – should be a hard job and international criminal law should be based on a sound legal framework reflecting state consent.

Comparative Jurist: You also worked as an election observer in several US states (Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) as well as foreign countries (Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine). Can you briefly explain your position as an election observer?

Arthur Traldi: As an election observer in another country, you basically travel around filling out forms to reflect what is happening in different polling places around the country and, to the best of your ability, observer whether what is happening is consistent with specific election laws and regulations and general principles of free and fair elections. Domestically, it’s typically more about observing a specific poll, or serving in a state headquarters monitoring reports from a variety of polling places.

Comparative Jurist: Can you explain your observations of the election process in these various locations?

Arthur Traldi: I’ve been lucky to go and often feel inspired by the commitment to the democratic processes volunteers in emerging democracies show, just like I am inspired when I interact with the folks who serve as judges of elections here in the United States. It’s been an honor to represent the United States on observation missions.

Comparative Jurist: Is there a consistent legal problem that arises in multiple countries?

Arthur Traldi: One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the basic form of voting – what physical or electronic record we create reflecting a voter’s expression of his or her will. We argue about the security and effectiveness of our voting machines. In other countries that I’ve seen or studied where paper ballots have been used, there’ve been allegations of stuffing boxes with fraudulent ballots, and in one instance in Indonesia, a counting process that took so long, in such difficult conditions, that hundreds of poll workers died. I haven’t seen a perfect solution, but my international work has made me very aware of the tradeoffs and imperfections in any counting process.

Comparative Jurist: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges the field of international criminal law faces today?

Arthur Traldi: The biggest challenge is figuring out where the field is going. The future of international criminal law is very much up in the air. The international institutions which have done the most cases – ICTY and ICTR – are finishing their work. Large-scale domestic litigation in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia is similarly drawing near completion, though there are stlil great prosecutors in Bosnia particularly doing very important cases. New courts like the Kosovo Specialist Chambers are just starting to shape what they will do and the ICC is still trying to figure out its role. There is some non-litigation work, but absent the rigor of a litigated factfinding process it is much easier for quasi-justice institutions to become politicized.

Comparative Jurist: Can you explain what you are looking forward to in your current and future work?

Arthur Traldi: As I answer this, I’m sitting in a courthouse in Sarajevo working with prosecutors here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I always look forwards enormously to coming back here. It’s a magical place and has become increasingly important to me.

Comparative Jurist: Do you have a specific goal that you hope to accomplish with your work?

Arthur Traldi: I hope to help get to the truth about very serious allegations and, when possible, help individual survivors of mass atrocities get closure.

*The featured image is of gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica,…/File:Srebrenica_massacre_memorial_gravestones_2009_1.jpg

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