Beth S. Lyons

Interview conducted 19 February 2015 in West New York, New Jersey, by David P. Briand and Leigh Swigart.

headshot of beth lyonsBackground

  • Defense Counsel, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 2004-05 and 2007-14.

  • Defense Counsel, International Criminal Court, 2015-present.

Interview Content

In this interview, Beth Lyons reminisces about her transition from Legal Aid in New York City to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR); volunteer work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Cape Town, South Africa; experiences in Pyongyang for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and the work of the Korean War Crimes Tribunal; work with the New York law firm Stevens, Hinds & White; her decision to first apply as list counsel for the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the application process; lack of prior knowledge about the Rwandan conflict before working at the ICTR; visits to prisons to interview witnesses; arrival in Arusha for the first time; financial costs of being defense counsel at the ICTR; culture shock and differences between South Africa and Tanzania; different pay rates for local and international UN workers in Arusha; and winning the Nzuwonemeye appeal.

She discusses her work with the International Association of Democratic Lawyers; changes in the U.S.-Cuban relationship and the end of the embargo; the U.N. pay structure; the importance of independent defense counsel in legitimizing international tribunals; the current structure of ICC independent defense counsel and a Revision Proposal to limit independence; the attempt to exclude Alison Des Forges as expert witness in the Simba case and use of her book by prosecutors; witness intimidation in Rwandan prisons and in the Simba case; the ICTR not being bound to accept all of a witness' testimony; witness preparation and tampering to push an official narrative; lack of convictions on conspiracy to commit genocide in Rwanda; the importance of good translation and accurate transcripts; the difference between charges of genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide; the definition of command responsibility; plea bargaining at the ICTY and ICTR; presumption of guilt and what happens when a defendant is acquitted by an international tribunal; the purpose of genocide tribunals; problems associated with UN pay differentials at the ICTR; experiences defending in the Military II case; comparisons between Legal Aid work and work at the ICTR; similarities between a U.S. bench trial and the ICTR procedure; the appeal of the Nzuwonemeye trial judgment; the process for presenting defense for multiple defendants in one case; reasons for delay in the Ad Hoc Tribunals; the influence of the Nuremburg model on ICTR operations; and the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt to give international tribunals legitimacy.

read full transcript of interview

Biographical Information

Beth S. Lyons received a bachelor's degree in political science from Boston University and a law degree from the City University of New York Law School. Her professional activities include: attorney, Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Division, New York City, 1987-98; attorney, Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeals Division, New York City, 1998-2007; attorney, Stevens, Hinds & White, P.C., New York, 1990-92; assigned counsel list, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), 2001; assigned counsel list, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), 2002; assigned counsel list, Special Court for Sierra Leone, 2003; leader, Investigative Work Missions in Benin, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, 2004-10; defense counsel for Aloys Simba, ICTR, 2004-05; assigned counsel list, ICC, 2005; assigned counsel list, ICTY, 2006-09; defense counsel for Maj. Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, ICTR, 2007-14; assigned counsel list as lead counsel, Special Tribunal for Lebanon, 2010; legal consultant roster, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, 2012; co-counsel, Situation in the Republic of Kenya, ICC, 2012; assigned counsel list, Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, 2013; co-counsel, U.N. Dispute Tribunal, New York, 2013-14; and alternate member, Disciplinary Board for Counsel, ICC, 2014-present.