Fighting for human rights - Alum shares insights and wisdom from his international law career

Andres Perez while working for the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia
Andres Perez (left) while working for the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia

While many of his law school peers were pursuing careers in corporate law, Andres Perez (LAW ’04) felt called to a a different path: international criminal law and human rights.

This is what led him to enroll at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he availed himself of every opportunity he could find, including including work in the War Crimes Research Lab, connections with mentors and finding grants that facilitated several internships. Collectively, these would form the springboard for Perez’s successful career in international law.

Today, he is a legal adviser at the Rule of Law and Democracy Section for the United Nations (U.N.) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, where he is on the vanguard of the U.N.’s fight for the protection of human rights throughout the world.

In an interview with Case Global, Perez discussed his career journey, his most impactful contributions and advice for law students interested in a career like his own.

Tell us about a highlight of your career so far.

I spent more than five years as a legal adviser at the Judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania, serving on 13 cases. To find myself working on legal teams dealing with real cases in the courtroom was beyond my wildest dreams as a young lawyer.

My favorite memory is leading a team of six lawyers and 20 interns in drafting the 400-page judgment and sentence in The Prosecutor v. Karemera, et al., a complex, multi-accused case against the highest-ranking civilian architects of the Rwandan genocide. It was the first judgment in the history of international criminal law to deliver a conviction for rape as a crime against humanity under extended liability for joint criminal enterprise.

What do you consider one of the most impactful contributions you have made to human rights?

Serving as a legal adviser for the United Nations International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia—which investigated allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights, humanitarian and international refugee law in Ethiopia—was very challenging, but impactful. I led a team of investigators, open-source analysts and interpreters to develop the factual crime base from which legal conclusions could be drawn. I developed legal conclusions for the commissioners to consider, and I ended up drafting most of the report. In the end, our first report was largely credited with leveraging the Ethiopian government into a peace process.

Do you have any advice for our students who are interested in careers in public international law?

Choose what you love and go for it with everything you have. International law requires a lot of commitment to swim upstream and past many of your peers who are headed in the other direction. Flexibility is key because you are likely to receive the opportunity of a lifetime when you least expect it, with very little time to decide. It won’t always be easy, so I have learned to never give up. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things. It pays off to be a bit of a maverick.