Translating the Meaningful: Dallas to The Hague

Becky Bailey graduated from SMU in 2005, summa cum laude, with a degree in Philosophy and another in English with a creative writing specialization. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and on the Dean’s List, she was on her way to law school, a journey that has taken her the short distance across campus to Dedman School of Law, then off to The Hague, Netherlands for nearly five months where she interned at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

“Writing a good English paper is difficult,” Bailey says, “because you have to analyze your own thoughts on something that’s already well discussed. But in creative writing you are discussing a topic that no one else has familiarity with; you are translating something that lives only inside your head. Being a lawyer is a little like that, only you are taking someone else’s story and translating it into something that’s meaningful to the court.”

Working in judges’ chambers, Bailey’s job was to produce summaries of witness testimony – a large part of the evidence used to decide guilt or innocence. She synthesized testimony from witnesses who had survived the 1990s Balkan conflict with other documents, enabling the court to evaluate evidence and credibility. She spent most of her time on one trial involving Croatian Chief General Ante Gotovina, charged with grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, breaches similar to those that the Serbs had also been charged with committing against the Croatians.

The United Nations established the ICTY to deal with war crimes that took place during the Balkan conflict. The Tribunal set a precedent in indicting and prosecuting a sitting head-of state. “The ICTY exists, in large part, to bring stability back to the former Yugoslavia by providing a voice to war victims,” Bailey says. “Without a voice in court, neither the people nor the country can heal.”

Argument is over in the Gotovina trial, and while the court works on judgment, Bailey plans to graduate in December and sit for the Texas Bar Exam. She calls her time at the ICTY a fascinating experience that led her to greater patriotism. She’s proud of the US. “Our higher education system is very proficient at what it does, and American lawyers are well-trained and highly sought-after in international settings,” she says.

She credits SMU’s undergraduate English curriculum, and especially the creative writing program, for giving her exposure to new ideas and the opportunity to develop the interests and skills necessary to succeed in law school, in the ICTY internship, and in her chosen profession.

Bailey wants to do humanitarian work. Of the Netherlands she says, “Part of me would like to go back and part of me thinks it’s a stepping-stone to something else.”

Rebekah “Becky” Bailey’s immediate plans include graduation and a job search. She is interested in translating her unique skills into a job in criminal prosecution with an international nexus with a goal of building her trial record for future consideration by the US Attorney’s office.

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