The International Zone – Australian Lawyers Abroad

Adelaide Law School student Thomas Wooden has spent the last 6 months working on the largest trial judgment in the history of international humanitarian law. The final year Adelaide law student is an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

This interview was given on the 16/05/15.


What made you decide to study law?

To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing when I decided. But when I started studying law I realised how interesting it was and how applicable it is to every part of life. When I started studying international law and international humanitarian law, I realised this is what I love.


And now you’re in the heart of the international zone. How did you decide to go for an internship at the ICTY?

Studying international humanitarian law was incredible. My mooting in particular really pushed me and made me realise I loved the jurisprudence. And so I decided to start looking for internships online.


There’s hot competition for these internships. How did you make it happen?

Yes, I didn’t think I was going to get this internship when I applied for it. It felt like one in a million. When the email came in to tell me I got it, it was 12.30am – I didn’t sleep for hours! The application process itself was mostly about getting a lot of documents together – cover letter, resume, letters of reference. I applied online through the UN’s human resources gateway, Inspira. I owe getting my internship to two of my professors Dr Dale Stephens and Dr Rebecca LaForgia from Adelaide Uni Law School. They gave me encouragement and support at every step of the way.


Your internship is in the Appeals Division of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). What are you working on?

I’m working on a case on appeal, Prlić et al. We’re dealing with the biggest trial judgment in international humanitarian law history. The judgment is over 2,500 pages and spans over 6 volumes. It has been incredible to be thrown into dealing with such a huge case. I have worked on analyzing evidence, legal research and writing memos on specific areas of law. The internship has taught me a lot about research and analytical skills.


And how is intern life?

I share an office with nine interns from nine different countries. For most of them, English is not their native language, although their English is pretty amazing. I’m living life with them. We work all day together and we also socialize together. We have dinner parties, we travel – we’ve been on trips to Istanbul and Italy. We’re like family.


All those nationalities working so closely – does it ever get tricky? Is it harder than working with a bunch of Australians?

I think it might even be easier. Because we come from such different cultures, we’re pushed to try and understand each other. Whereas with people from Australia, we all come from the same background and it can just come down to…competing egos. This is a less competitive environment because you come from such different jurisdictions.


Have there been any surprises during your internship?

The ICTY and the OTP specifically is an incredibly inclusive and welcoming work environment. As soon as I arrived at the ICTY I felt completely normal. I could be myself. I guess this isn’t strictly a surprise, but it’s something that I had really hoped for. I’m gay and I’ve worked with professionals before my time at the ICTY who treated me just a little bit differently. I thus have to commend the OTP, and the Appeals Division specifically, for that beautiful work environment. The individuals that work here are great people who don’t discriminate for any reason.


And the highlight?

Meeting interns and lawyers from all over the world. Because they are such intelligent individuals, some of the best legal minds I’ve met. Being here has changed my life. I have met so many incredible people.


Sounds as good as it gets. Do you have any tips for others interested in applying for an internship in the international zone?


Get involved in the things you’re interested in outside of your studies. I think my time with the Model United Nations, my mooting experience and other things I’m interested in – like re-starting the Pride Club of the University of Adelaide – have all helped me. When I look at the people I work with, many are into other things. They are musicians, radio hosts – they have interesting lives. Put simply, it’s about more than just the studies.


On a practical note – how did you fund your internship?

My professors were great in helping me find sources of support. I received a Dame Roma Mitchell Scholarship and a federal government scholarship (Study Overseas Short Term Mobility Program) and I also knocked on a lot of doors for sponsorship, including local rotary clubs. Six months is a long time to go as an unpaid intern and sponsorship won’t cover all my costs – but I can tell you, it has definitely been worth the experience.


And what next for Thomas Wooden?

I’m going to Eurovision for 5 days with a friend who is studying in Sweden! And then after some travel in Europe, I have one more year of my law degree. Over the summer I will do another internship with the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Longer term, if my dream to do a duet with Jessica Mauboy at Eurovision doesn’t come true, I hope I’ll be working for an organisation that I love, an organisation with meaning. I have a broad interest in international law and would like to taste different aspects. So I don’t know exactly where I will be. I never confine myself.


Please note, the views expressed in this article are the personal views of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ICTY and/or the United Nations.


The original interview given by Thomas Wooden with Alice Ramsay was originally published by Lawyers Weekly and can be accessed here. Feel free to connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.


Thomas completed the Law School’s Human Rights Internship Programme (a 3 unit elective) in Semester 1 2015. If you are interested in hearing more about this programme, please attend the Internship Information Forum on Open Day on Sunday the 16th August 2015 at 12pm in the Moot Court or contact Dr Laura Grenfell at

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