Gabrielle Kirk McDonald

gabrielle kirk mcdonald gestures as she speaks

In this excerpt from her oral history for the Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, former judge and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, discusses the impetus for the creation of the ICTY's Outreach Programme. (3:27)

Trial Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), 1993-97; Appeals Judge of the ICTY and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 1997-99; ICTY President, 1997-99

Interview conducted 15 July 2015 in East Hampton, New York, by David P. Briand and Leigh Swigart.

Interview Content

In her interview, Judge McDonald reminisces about working with the first ICTY president, Antonio Cassese; the frequent need to amend the Tribunal's original Rules of Procedure and Evidence in order for them to be effective; how the Tadić trial unfolded and its relative rapidity; differing opinions around hearsay evidence; decisions made as presiding judge at the Tadić trial; deciding on the physical configuration of the first courtroom; the personal impact on judges of hearing painful testimony; mutual support among judges sitting on the Tadić trial; the atmosphere of enthusiasm in the early years of the ICTY; friction between chambers and the Office of the Prosecutor; concern about early indictments not including charges of sexual violence; impressions from her first trip to Rwanda and genocide sites; different levels of infrastructure found at the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR); disagreement around the release of ICTR accused Jean Bosco Barayagwiza. She discusses the relation of her former civil rights work to the ICTY mission; the development of the ICTY Rules of Procedure and Evidence, especially those concerning trials in absentia and sexual violence; the central place of the US Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in the development of the ICTY Rules; how discussions took place between English and French speakers; the role of submissions by women's groups in developing rules concerning sexual violence; civil and common law influences on the ICTY Rules; the importance of contact between the ICTY and The Balkans for the Tribunal's legitimacy; the testimony of "Witness L" in the Tadić trial; the pressures and responsibilities of being the ICTY president; language challenges for judges who did not speak French; the critical need to develop an outreach program;

read transcript of full interview

Biographical Information

Gabrielle Kirk McDonald attended Boston University and Hunter College, and subsequently received a law degree at the Howard University School of Law. Upon graduation, McDonald was hired as a staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. She then entered private practice, while also teaching law as an assistant professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University, and then as a lecturer at the University of Texas School of Law.

McDonald was appointed as a judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 1979, the first African American to be appointed to the federal bench in the southern United States and only the third African American woman federal judge in the country. McDonald resigned from the bench in 1988 and rejoined both private practice and teaching.

In 1993, McDonald received the highest number of votes from the General Assembly of the United Nations and served as one of 11 judges on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In 1997, she became the tribunal's president. Then, in 2001, McDonald was called to serve as an arbitrator on the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where she remained until her retirement in 2013.