MAS in Transitional Justice: What our Alumni Say

21 December 2023

Ignacio Bollier graduated from our MAS in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (MTJ) back in 2017. As a Human Rights Officer at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, he works on cases brought before the Commission related to crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations during transitional and post-transitional contexts, in particular enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

In this interview, he tells about the programme, fond memories and what it brought to his career.

In your opinion, what are the strengths of the programme?

I think that one of the main strengths is the powerful bridges that the programme manages to build between theory and practice. I recall that in the first semester, we had courses where we were introduced to profound theoretical and philosophical debates that helped us understand the general foundations and principles of transitional justice.

Then, during the second semester, we had to put into practice all those readings and theories, most notably during our research internships and the MTJ paper. At the end of my studies, I think I was able to close that gap that sometimes exists between theory and practice and to engage in the specific topics that I was interested in a more nuanced and informed way.

Besides that, it is no secret to anyone that the faculty is world-class. I attended courses taught not just by well-known skilled scholars in their respective disciplines but I also had the pleasure of getting to know and learn from seasoned practitioners with vast experience working in the field. From a student’s point of view, that mix between versed scholars and on-field practitioners is extremely rewarding.

Finally, one distinctive feature of the programme, and in fact of the Geneva Academy itself, is that you’ll get to live in the midst of International Geneva, surrounded by dozens of international organizations, permanent missions, NGOs and think tanks. Almost every day there are all sorts of academic activities that you can take advantage of if you are interested in deepening your knowledge and engaging in networking. Not to mention the benefits of being part of the University of Geneva and Geneva Graduate Institute academic community with access to libraries and all sorts of resources.

Tell us about your current job: what are your main responsibilities?

I serve as Human Rights Officer at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

My core responsibilities are the analysis of complaints for alleged human rights violations submitted by individuals before the IACHR and the drafting of legal reports interpreting the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights in light of the facts of each case. Such reports – called ‘merits reports’ – are essential to help the Commissioners determine whether a state party to the Convention is internationally responsible for human rights violations under that treaty and, therefore, obliged to repair the victims.

My portfolio of cases deals mostly with crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations during transitional and post-transitional contexts, in particular enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. I also participate in cases that involve the absence of due process of law in criminal trials and the unlawful deprivation of liberty and torture.

Also, when the IACHR decides to refer the case to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, I represent the Commission in the procedures. In such a capacity, I’m usually tasked with assisting IACHR Commissioners in the presentation of the case during oral hearings as well as preparing the testimony of expert witnesses and the drafting of all sorts of case briefs.

On top of that, from time to time, I’m asked to participate on behalf of the IACHR in courses, seminars and workshops aimed at disseminating Inter-American human rights standards to lawyers, human rights defenders and state officials from the region.

How do you apply what you learned in class in your work?

I use on a daily basis what I studied in the programme. Most of the cases in which I’m called to intervene involve human rights violations committed in dictatorial contexts or during armed conflicts. Consequently, when we have to determine if a state has incurred its international responsibility and, thus, promote reparations for the victims, I must always keep in mind the four main components of transitional justice: truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition, and the special characteristics of each of them.

Even today, six years after my graduation from the programme, I usually find myself consulting the bibliography and casework of the different courses I took in order to find the right approach for a case I’m working on.

Could you share some highlights or fond memories from your time in the programme?

It's hard to choose just a few memories. One of the highlights for sure is the possibility of having met people who, although they come from different cultures and backgrounds, shared with me an interest in human rights and transitional justice.

Being part of such a geographically diverse group of classmates was great as it allowed me to learn about their experiences and cultures. The meals we shared together, the debates we had, the parties and picnics in the park in front of Villa Moynier will always remain entrenched in my memory. In retrospect, I even miss the long hours spent in the library and the coffees and chocolates we shared!

The study trip to Nuremberg to visit the courtroom where the historic trials of the Nazi war criminals took place was also a very touching experience. For me personally, that travel represented an unforgettable opportunity to stand in a room where international human rights law was applied perhaps for the first time, not to mention the very informative and emotional museum that is adjacent to the courtroom.

I also cannot forget to recall the great honour that was having the late Dr Christof Heyns as a professor during the second semester of the programme and the camaraderie and bonds that we as students were able to build with the faculty and the staff of the Geneva Academy.

In what way has this experience contributed to your professional growth?

I believe that having completed the master's degree in transitional justice was a before-and-after experience in terms of my professional career. In the first place, it helped me improve my critical thinking skills and my ability to analyse and interpret long, complex legal and academic texts. It was also an excellent way to further improve my English and French reading, speaking and writing capabilities.

Secondly, the programme not only provided me with answers to some questions that I had regarding the applicability of transitional justice principles in concrete scenarios but also raised in me new questions on issues that I even didn’t know existed. After the conclusion of the programme, I felt I was able to continue my academic career pursuing a PhD or join a national or international human rights organization, as I did. Having completed the master helped me in the process of searching and applying for jobs in the human rights field.

Besides all that, the programme allowed me to meet many fellow practitioners and colleagues who have become part of my network, thus opening new doors and opportunities to broaden my professional perspectives.

Would you recommend this programme to others considering similar career paths?

Yes, I would, absolutely.

In my current job I have the chance to work with several interns who are making their first steps into their professional careers and to all of them I emphatically recommend the programme. Not only because nowadays it is important to have a master’s degree in order to land a good job, but most importantly because transitional justice is an extremely meaningful and fast-changing field in a world mired by all sorts of conflicts that need or will need in the future the implementation of transitional justice agendas.

Additionally, from my perspective, the Geneva Academy’s Master in Transitional Justice manages to integrate into a single programme multiple disciplines such as human rights and international law, philosophy and political science. Therefore, I recommend this programme not only to lawyers but also to all those who might feel interested in exploring a career in this challenging area.

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