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Watch Judge McDonald's interview video clip.


Gabrielle Kirk McDonald

Trial Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, 1993 to 1997; Appeals Judge of the ICTY and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 1997-99; ICTY President, 1997-99GKM Profile Pic


An interview with Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, conducted on 15 July 2015 in East Hampton, NY by David P. Briand and Leigh Swigart.

Access the full transcript here.

Go to the Brandeis Institutional Repository to conduct a keyword search across the entire Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History collection.

Please use the following citation format: Oral History Interview with Gabrielle Kirk McDonald (2016), Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project, pages XX, International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.

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 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;

Biographical information

Gabrielle Kirk McDonald attended Boston University and Hunter College, and subsequently received her 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 eleven 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.