Studying international law - why I chose Rutgers

By M’Ballou Y. Sanogho '20

My interest in international law can be traced back to my time as a child in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa.  At a young age, I faced many of the devastating situations endured by my country at large.  I experienced civil war and adverse cultural practices, including female genital mutilation.   At the time, I had little to no understanding of the circumstances that forced my family to seek asylum in the United States.  However, after I took a course in human rights with Professor Jacques Fomerand during my undergraduate years at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I began to have an interest in international law and realize that the world we live in has a long way to go, as all people, not only in Côte d’Ivoire, face various cultural, political, and religious problems.

M’Ballou Sanogho ’20

My primary objective in enrolling at Rutgers Law School was to further my expertise in international law.  I had prior experiences working on international law and human rights issues.  However, most of my prior work focused on research and advocacy.  For instance, I had the opportunity to work as an Assistant Project Manager for the Minister of Justice in the Department of Human Rights in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  I conducted research in and processed  reported cases of human rights violations that took place following the 2010 presidential election in Abidjan, which necessitated the interview of victims and perpetrators of human rights violations.  However, throughout this process, I was forced to take a sideline on litigation related work, because I lacked the requisite legal skills and credentials.  Similarly, during my internship with Human Rights First in New York, I assisted in interview process of asylum seekers, and drafted human rights reports on each asylum seekers’ country conditions.  However, I was sidelined when it came to concrete legal issues and litigation.  This handicap left with a strong desire to acquire the necessary legal skills that would enable me to be involved in the entire legal process of an international law related litigation, and Rutgers Law School gave me just that.

At Rutgers Law School I was able to expend my knowledge and skills in international law.  Foremost, I had the opportunity to take courses with renowned experts in the field of international law, including Professor Jean-Marc Coicaud—who was a Legislative Aide at the European Parliament and the speech-writer of former United Nations Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Professor Rogers S. Clark—who represented the Government of Samoa and the Marshall Islands before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial organ of the United Nations.  

Second, I was actively involved in Rutgers’ international law community.  I was member of the Phillips C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team two semesters in the row.  Jessup is the world’s largest moot court competition, with participants from roughly 700 law schools in 100 countries and jurisdictions.  The Competition is a simulation of a fictional dispute between countries before the ICJ.  During the Competition, my teammates and I competed against teams from other law schools through the presentation of oral and written pleadings to address timely issues of public international law in the context of a hypothetical legal dispute between nations.  This experience has not only enable me to hone my legal writing and research skills, but it has also allowed me to put in actual practice my expertise in international law and exposed me for the first time to oral advocacy.  It is one of the kind experience that I would highly recommend to any law students who are interested in international law, or who are simply looking to improve on their oral advocacy, and legal writing and research skills.  In addition to Jessup, I was vice-president of Rutgers International Law Society (ILS), which is a students organization at Rutgers Law School.  ILS is part of a bigger chapter of the American Society of International Law.  We organized seminars on emerging issues in international law, as well as social and networking events.  Moreover, I was member of a team that spearheaded and created Rutgers International Law & Human Rights Journal.  This was made possible thanks in great part to the overwhelming supports from students and faculty, including our faculty advisors Professors Jorge Contesse, Jootaek Lee, and Amy Soled.  Rutgers International Law and Human Rights Journal is an important forum through which leading legal scholars and students can foster intellectual and interdisciplinary dialogue on emerging and key legal issues affecting the global community.  The Journal seeks to increase and enhance the scholarship on international law, and its focus on and relationship to human rights, and to place Rutgers Law School at the center of this discussion. 

Finally, thanks to Rutgers Law School’s strong connection to its alumni, I was able to land my second legal internship with International Justice Project (IJP).  IJP is a non-profit organization dedicated in assisting victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in their struggle for recognition and inclusion in domestic and international judicial forums.  During my internship, I worked directly with victims of the war in Sudan who sought asylum in the United States.  Part of the work consisted of client interviews and drafting report of human rights violations, which was then submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague as part of its case against former Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir.  Although I did not participate in the litigation proceedings at the ICC, I was however directly involved in the legal research and drafting process of some of the cases that IJP undertook.  

Overall, my experience at Rutgers Law School was both intellectually challenging and rewarding.  I now have a solid understanding of international law, its rules and how they apply.  The experience left with a greater appreciation for the field of international law.  And as I began my legal career here in the United States, I now aspire to work in the near future at the ICC.