Former scholar prosecutes war crimes at The Hague
Ryan Carrier at The Hague Photo courtesy of Ryan Carrier
Rotary experiences twice helped Ryan Carrier discover new cultures and enrich his education in a journey that led him to become a war crimes prosecutor for the United Nations.
Since 2008, Carrier, 38, has worked as a legal officer for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. This ad hoc UN tribunal deals with crimes against humanity and war crimes that happened in that region after 1991.
Carrier is currently prosecuting three Croatian army generals for crimes alleged to have been committed during Operation Storm in August 1995. Then, more than 100,000 ethnic Serbs were driven out of Croatia in what Carrier describes as the largest case of ethnic cleansing during the Balkan wars.
“Ethnic cleansing is not limited to entering a town and killing everyone; it also encompasses illegal acts whereby someone attempts to reconfigure the demographics of a certain area, driving out certain ethnicities in order to ‘cleanse’ the area,” says Carrier, originally from White Rock, British Columbia, Canada.
“War crimes often affect hundreds of thousands of people. [The crimes] are incredibly serious and very upsetting, but you have to be able to distance yourself a little bit. At the end of the day, you have to do what is right.”
Carrier’s first Rotary experience was in 1989, when the Rotary Club of White Rock selected him as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. He lived for a year in Vetlanda, Sweden, where he attended high school, became fluent in Swedish, and grew close to his host family, a bond that continues to this day.
In 1996, Carrier studied criminology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar, sponsored by the Rotary Club of White Rock-Peace Arch. He had the opportunity to witness a society that was changing quickly, after decades of apartheid.
“I was working with a lot of former African National Congress members in black townships and advising on policing issues with my professor, so I kind of lived between these two divergent worlds coexisting in South Africa at the time,” Carrier says. “It taught me how important it is to adapt and try to appreciate peoples’ perspectives before pushing your own agenda or viewpoint.”
Deciding that a legal career would be the best way for him to make an impact on the world, Carrier went on to earn a law degree at Cambridge University. He worked as a prosecutor, handling criminal cases emanating from one of Toronto’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods before landing the job at the UN. His Rotary experiences significantly shaped his career and outlook on life, he says.
“You can go on a trip somewhere, but that’s not the same thing as living in a place and getting to know the people, seeing their perspectives, and gaining their trust and really being welcomed in a deeper way,” Carrier explains. “It gave me a lot more confidence to do something bigger with my life. If I hadn’t had both of those helping hands along the way from Rotary – the exchange program and the Ambassadorial Scholarship – I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have now.”
Written for Reconnections