Avo Sevag Garabet is Associate Information Officer at the ICJ. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy (BA) in Lebanon, he pursued a master’s degree in Public International Law and the Law of International Organizations (LLM) in Groningen. During his extensive career he worked in a number of international organizations, including at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and did many internships at various institutions. Below, he tells us about his career, shares some skills that helped him and provides useful advice.
What does your current job as Associate Information Officer at the ICJ entail? In broad terms, my responsibilities as Associate Information Officer are twofold: first, I present the work and mandate of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the principal judicial organ of the United Nations — to the “clients” of the Court, namely journalists, diplomats, lawyers and the general public; second, I liaise with the Parties to cases before the Court, local and regional partners, and other actors within the United Nations system regarding the activities of the Court. I perform a wide range of tasks each day, including drafting press releases, monitoring the press and other information sources, responding to enquiries, managing the Court’s social media accounts and website content, organizing public hearings and other events at the Court, and giving presentations. This variety is not without its challenges sometimes, but my job is never boring and no two days are the same.
What did your career path look like? My career path can be traced back to my undergraduate years at Notre Dame University in Lebanon. During this time, I completed two internships and undertook a number of volunteering and pro bono activities. I spent the final years of my studies working on projects related to the Lebanese civil war and transitional justice as Editor at Umam Documentation and Research Centre in Beirut. I moved to The Hague after obtaining my LLM from the University of Groningen in 2012. I first interned in the Legal Office of the Registry at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) for seven months, before being briefly assigned Case Manager in the Defence team for Mr. Banda and Mr. Jerbo at the International Criminal Court (ICC, Darfur situation) in 2013. I then returned to the STL, where I held communications roles from 2013 to 2016. Since 2016, I have been Associate Information Officer at the ICJ, where I had the chance to be exposed approximately to twenty cases in different stages of proceedings.
What would you say are the most important skills you learned during your study at the Notre Dame University and the RUG? Studying International Affairs and Diplomacy at Notre Dame University in Lebanon taught me foundational skills including, critical thinking, diplomacy and protocol. The multidisciplinary nature of the undergraduate programme broadened my knowledge in fields such as international relations, history and political economy. International relations theories and foreign policy doctrines remain favourite areas of interest to this day. By extension, my graduate studies at the University of Groningen not only provided me with a legal education, they also gave me the opportunity to improve my reasoning and analytical skills. Inevitably, spending long hours in the University Library had a positive effect on my research skills too. In my view, international relations and international law are complementary and the combination of skills with which they equip students are valued in many job settings. Examining global issues from both angles offers us a comprehensive understanding and this can but lead to a mutually assured reinforcement, to paraphrase a well-known doctrine in international relations.
Was this the kind of job you imagined when you started studying? When I started my studies, I was interested in joining the diplomatic corps, but I had not ruled out an academic career or a career in journalism. Yet world events, and in particular the “Arab Spring“ of 2011, took me in the direction of human rights. At that time, I had the opportunity to do an internship with the Regional Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Beirut, where I monitored the large-scale human rights violations taking place in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region falling under the purview of the Office. This experience drew my attention to the importance of international law in general, and of human rights law in particular, in addressing the pressing issues facing the region. Upon graduation, I wished to transpose what I had learnt to the countries of the MENA region. The STL and ICC offered me the opportunity to put that wish into practice. After that, one experience led to another and before long I found myself working for the ICJ in the iconic Peace Palace in The Hague. Owing to the universal and general jurisdiction of the Court, I find the range of cases before the ICJ, which concern a variety of legal subject-matters and involve States from all over the world, truly fulfilling.
Did you always have the ambition to work abroad? Certainly, and it is one of the reasons I studied international relations and international law. Working in a multicultural environment can be truly enriching: it allows us to work with people from different backgrounds, be exposed to new perspectives and ideas, and be innovative in our approach. As a young student, I dreamt of a diplomatic career that would take me to the four corners of the world, but that obviously did not happen. My first “assignment abroad” was an internship at Airbus in the summer of 2010. I consider myself very lucky not only to have had the opportunity to work in the private sector and to have gained an insight into how big corporations function, but to have also lived in Paris. After completing my studies in Groningen, I initially thought that I would stay in the Netherlands for a few more months before moving elsewhere. However, work opportunities kept me here long enough for me to start calling the Netherlands home.
Do you have any advice for current students? My main advice for students would be to do what you have a passion for and an interest in. For instance, when you choose a research topic or a Master’s thesis, pick a topic that you enjoy, because you will be “stuck” with it for a while, and most people would agree that we are better at doing things that we like. That would later help you to choose your career path too. I recently came across a quote by the late American writer Toni Morrison that I find fitting here: “You make the job; it doesn’t make you”.
I would also recommend to students to do as many extracurricular activities as possible while at university. These can be internships, training or volunteering. In 2016, a team of students conducted a study on the effectiveness of the communications tools of the STL in reaching their target audiences. This was part of Clio’s International Research by Students Programme (IRSP) and is a good example of the sort of activity to engage in. Learning languages, especially if you are interested in working in the international field, is often another valuable asset. The job market is quite competitive and it is these activities and skills that will set you apart. Finally, I am very mindful that COVID-19 had a disturbing effect on education and student lives. I call on students to be patient and try to embrace the changing circumstances as best as they can.