Judge Kimberly Prost: From U of M to the Hague to New York
From 2006 to 2010, Faculty of Law alumna Kimberly Prost [LLB/81] served in the Hague as part of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia — a tribunal that “irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law.” The UN judge was at the Faculty of Law on September 22 to speak on the topic, “A Perspective on International Criminal Law Innovations and the UN Security Council: A Journey From the Hague to New York.”
Listening to Prost speak about her experiences, you get a definitive sense of her clarity, integrity and independent spirit — in addition to her warmth and humanity. Clearly these are characteristics that serve her well in her current position in New York City as ombudsperson to the UN Security Council’s Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee, an appointment for which she was described as the “most qualified person in the world for the job.”
Created in 2010, the ombudsperson position was a response to the lack of due process for those who end up on the 1267 list — the list established by the Security Council to track individuals and entities associated with Al-Qaida. Prost calls her role “a small one in relation to the big picture — but you do feel that, day to day, you’re making a contribution to protection of rights, [whether] security rights or individual rights.”
According to Prost, her background in criminal law added the necessary element to the human rights advocacy aspects of the role — all interests, she says, that began at the U of M.
When she started law school, Prost had no real idea of what she wanted to do. She thought she might teach. Upon graduation, she articled with the Dept. of Justice Canada in Winnipeg and was assigned to the juvenile court — and she found she loved criminal law.
Prost: “To my shock, I absolutely loved the courtroom and criminal law.”
“To my shock, I absolutely loved the courtroom and criminal law,” she says. “It came as a complete surprise. That’s what launched my career as a practitioner.”
It also launched a lifelong career that would put her into the thick of the most intriguing international criminal issues of our times, from her role in the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to her time in the Hague. She calls these the first and second “most rewarding work,” respectively, that she’s done.
Previous to her recent accomplishments, Prost had a 20-year career as a federal prosecutor with the Canadian Department of Justice. She joined the Commonwealth Secretariat as head of the Criminal Law Section in 2000 and also worked for a decade as part of the International Assistance Group, Canada’s central authority on international criminal cooperation matters, serving for seven years as its director.
In her current role as ombudsperson to the UN Security Council, Judge Prost is the person someone contacts when they believe they have been unfairly identified as a terrorist threat — and therefore have been subject to UN Security Council sanctions: an immediate freezing of assets, and a ban from international travel and from owning any weapons. Before the creation of the position, an independent one for which Prost herself had advocated, there was no appeal process or recourse.
Judge Prost is the person someone contacts when they believe they have been unfairly identified as a terrorist threat.
She’s as passionate about due process, though she laughs, “It’s not an easy job to try to convince the Security Council that they need to be careful about individual rights when they are exercising the strongest political power in the world.”
A balance between human rights advocacy and law constitutes her guiding principle: “I always come back to ‘What must I achieve to protect the fundamental rights I’m here to protect?’ And that’s not just about the individual rights to fair process or access to property, etc. — it’s equally important, in terms of the obligations of the Security Council, to protect the right we all have to life and security.
“I always have to ask myself how far I can go with one set of rights without compromising the other. And I always bring it back to law — I stay as far, far away from the political issues as I can.”
And the enduring appeal for her of criminal law?
“The great thing about criminal law is that you do feel, either side of the table in an adversarial system, that you are contributing to things that are important to society: the safety and security of the people, the deterrence of crime — and at the same time, the role of the prosecutor is always partially the protection of rights. You’re an officer of the court,” she says.
Judge Prost: “The great thing about criminal law is that you do feel, either side of the table in an adversarial system, that you are contributing to things that are important to society.”
“That was drilled into me by Bruce MacFarlane [at the Faculty of Law], and others I worked for here,” she adds. “Prosecutors don’t ‘win’ cases. You’re there as an officer of the law, and you present cases on behalf of the people and the crown.”
And the core of criminal law holds the same appeal for her today: its clarity.
“At the Tribunal it was about finding the law, but in most places it’s about applying the law as it’s given to you. But once you do that, it’s this interesting exercise of law to facts. Which of course is true in all areas of law but there’s something particular about criminal law — it doesn’t have a lot of principles that are nebulous. International law does. But … criminal [law] is pretty clear. And I liked that element.”
Her time in Winnipeg allowed her to build confidence, she says. “I have great memories at my time at the University of Manitoba and Robson Hall; I was part of St. Paul’s College and St. Mary’s [Academy] before that,” she says. “I know it’s a larger university now, but it’s still got an atmosphere that you are part of a smaller community.”.
She also merits the Faculty of Law for its high quality of education. “For me, [it’s about] the quality of the teaching at the Law School. Even back then, when it wasn’t nearly as prominent as it is now, we had practical skills courses … on advocacy … we got to do defense work for the clinic. We also had really high quality teachers. It was a very impressive faculty — and I still think that.
“I’m very grateful for that.”