Rawan Arraf is Principal Lawyer and Director of the Australian Centre for International Justice. She has 10 years of experience in refugee protection, administrative law and international human rights law. Arraf set up the centre to develop Australia’s domestic investigations and prosecutions of international crimes.
What inspired you to establish the Australian Centre for International Justice?
I’m passionate about supporting victims of international crimes and finding avenues to disrupt the pattern of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators. For a long time, I wondered why there was no centre doing this kind of work here domestically, particularly because we have such an established legal profession. Moreover, Australian international criminal lawyers and academics are well regarded abroad. There was a clear gap in the legal services, prompting me to create this centre to work directly on these issues and push Australian authorities to improve access to justice for victims of international crimes.
What cases have inspired you?
Previously, I worked as a lawyer at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS). This gave me a chance to work directly with victims of international crimes. Many of my clients had escaped violence from horrific armed conflicts that are still happening today. While my role was to help these clients gain protection in Australia, hearing their stories of what had happened prior was one of my inspirations to open the centre.
What has been a career highlight?
I still feel so young in my career, but opening the centre would have to be a highlight. It has been a huge undertaking and a real sacrifice. To be honest, the first two years has involved a lot of admin and bureaucracy, but it’s ultimately been worth it. It will be interesting to look back in 10 or 20 years and see what we’ve achieved, if we are still around.
How have you managed the challenges of COVID-19?
It’s slowed down our ability to conduct some of our cases. With clients who we represent abroad we’ve really had to manage their expectations and tell them it’s going to take a little longer to complete their criminal complaints. In another way, though, I feel like we’re busier than ever.
Do you have any plans for the future?
It’s a huge challenge what we’re trying to do – to get Australia to undertake international crimes, investigations and prosecutions. Australia is still miles away from where jurisdictions in Europe are. At the moment, Germany has an ongoing trial of two individuals involved in Syria’s state sponsored torture apparatus, on the basis of universal jurisdiction – the idea that regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator, victim or where the crime took place, states have an obligation to prosecute the most egregious crimes of concern to the international community. Australia doesn’t have this practice, and it’s going to take a lot of work to change that. That’s why, in addition to litigation, we have a broad policy advocacy agenda.
Do you have any advice for lawyers seeking to pursue a similar path?
My first piece of advice is to always follow what you’re passionate about. Talk to people in the field and gain a language if you can, especially if you want to work abroad. Getting an LLM is a plus – I’m in the process of getting mine at the moment. If you can find a gap in legal services, then definitely find a way to fill it. Additionally, seek out a mentor and build a network of supporters who will keep pushing you and providing advice along the way.