Michelle Rodenburg Spent Her 2L Summer Immersed in International Criminal Law Work in Cambodia
Michelle Rodenburg, 3L, spent the summer as an intern for the Office of the International Co-Prosecutor in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). It was a rare opportunity to learn about international criminal law firsthand for the Human Rights Center fellow, who obtained the placement through her connection with the HRC.
Could you describe a little bit about your summer experience working in the courts in Cambodia?
This summer I interned in the Office of the International Co-Prosecutor in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The ECCC, located in Phnom Penh, is a hybrid court established through agreement between the United Nations and the government of Cambodia. The Office of the International Co-Prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and others most responsible for the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979). During this period, approximately one-fourth of the Cambodian population perished. I performed a variety of tasks in assisting the Office of the International Co-Prosecutor in its work in the investigative, pre-trial, and appellate stages of all ECCC cases. In addition to legal research and writing tasks, I also had the opportunity to attend an appeal hearing in the pre-trial chamber, as well as participate in the 2019 Conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
What are a couple of your key takeaways from the experience?
This experience highlighted the ever-changing and evolving status of international criminal law. International criminal law tribunals such as the ECCC are constantly establishing and testing the rules of international criminal law. This makes the ECCC’s work challenging, yet extremely important.
What was it like living in Cambodia for a summer?
Cambodia is a lively, colorful, ancient, and charming place. The people of Cambodia make it a very easy place in which to live. Phnom Penh is a bustling and growing city, which means that sometimes the commute to and from work may take a couple hours, but when you finally get home you always know there’s a delicious new restaurant to discover.
How did you find this summer placement?
I found this placement through the Human Rights Center. The HRC worked with the Office of the International Co-Prosecutor in discussing the possibility of intern placement in the ECCC, then the HRC opened an initial application process last fall. I was selected, then nominated, for the position by the HRC. This nomination also included funding through the HRC Dobias Fellowship. I was additionally awarded the Walter H. Judd International Graduate & Professional Fellowship. Together, these fellowships allowed me to participate in an international internship opportunity without any financial strain.
How does this summer job connect to your long-range plans?
I intend to work in international law, and this summer job was the latest in my varied international work experiences. While I have previously focused more on international human rights law, this summer job allowed me a rare opportunity to get firsthand experience in international criminal law. I intend to use the litigation skills I gained this summer to continue exploring career options in international law.
What advice would you offer another student looking to do this or something similar as a summer experience?
A summer experience like this requires you to be open-minded and willing to step out of your comfort zone (both professionally and personally). I would suggest thinking about summer job options like this early in the year, as deadlines may come fairly quickly. Additionally, keep an eye out for funding opportunities and don’t be shy in applying—the University of Minnesota has a variety of funding possibilities for those pursuing non-traditional but career-focused summer jobs.