Where are you from, and why there?
Conceived in Paris, born in Montréal. My parents were actors in France. They met on a theater stage, worked entirely in French and raised me in the French culture and language. They were true artists and avant-garde humanists. I consider myself as belonging to the French world as I was solely educated in French, learning English in my early twenties.
Due to severe illnesses in my family and being the oldest of four children, I started to take charge when I was still very young. It gave me a very deep sense of responsibility and the confidence to lead, which helped shape my personality. I became acutely aware of hardship, and my commitment to help alleviate it became part of my DNA.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
Upholding the rule of law as an instrument of justice. Strengthening the international system and cooperation between nations to safeguard democracy and human rights around the world.
I focus today on the roles of business in both contributing to and preventing harm to human rights. In my current legal practice, I advise, accompany, and educate various economic actors and make sure all hear and listen to the voices of the most vulnerable people and workers. The aim is to ensure they are being protected and respected, whether in a big infrastructure project like a mine or a dam or in a global supply chain to enable ethical and responsible sourcing. I work with governments, corporations, NGOs, international organizations and unions, using the convening skills I have developed in this work and as an accredited international mediator.
How did you get involved?
I started my career in criminal law as a young and very idealistic lawyer. I was a public defender where my mission — it was more than a job — was to give a voice to marginalized and vulnerable people facing the courts, the police, and state agencies. That work encompassed a multi-faceted role where I often acted as a quasi-social worker and family advisor. It was also through my daily experience in court that I fully grasped the true meaning of defense work and its importance in ensuring the credibility and legitimacy of any legal system over time. I also witnessed the full meaning of social inequality and the huge effort required to reverse some of its most devastating effects.
In the 1990s, thrilled by the fall of the Berlin Wall, I became involved in policy work at the United Nations to build an international criminal justice system, inspired by the quest of civil society and NGOs to end impunity. I also was appointed by the Canadian government to the Self-Defence Review Commission to review cases of women incarcerated for killing a spouse after being victims of violence for decades. I spent months visiting jails, listening to these women and learning so much about how they were caught in infernal cycles of violence.
While continuing to practice criminal law my fascination for international law and international affairs continued to grow, leading me to become more deeply involved in the further establishment of the international justice system. In the mid-nineties the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia was being created, so I decided to get involved in this historical development, creating the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association and participating in the preparatory commissions to establish the new International Criminal Court (ICC), a permanent institution. I became a member of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, led by the remarkable Bill Pace, who convened more than 2,000 NGOs to press governments to create the ICC.
In record time, the court was formed in 1998 and established in 2002. Inspired by this amazing convening effort, I led the creation of the International Criminal Bar (ICB) with other bar associations and lawyers from around the world and was elected the first president of the ICB in Berlin in 2003. This was a very different kind of legal advocacy from court work, focused on policy more than people. I participated in treaty negotiations at the UN establishing international legal frameworks and learning public diplomacy – a very different trade from courtroom advocacy – working with two NGOs that I helped create to fight for the right to a fair trial for criminal defendants and for the proper representation of victims, be they communities facing powerful state institutions or individual victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Today, as noted earlier, my focus also includes economic and business issues, including modern slavery and labor conditions, which are outside the pure framework of criminal law.
What’s the biggest challenge for the issue(s) today?
Growing social inequality and the lack of social justice, now coupled with climate change, which, of course, affects vulnerable populations most severely, combined with lack of channels for them to seek remedy and “redress of grievances.” In the last 20 years we have seen corporate profits soar and wages stagnate as greed has given rise to unprecedented and unsustainable economic inequality. This needs to be addressed urgently.
Who are your most frequent allies? Any surprises?
Like-minded advocates, naturally, mostly in NGOs and in law. But when doing advocacy work it’s also very important to convince people to change the way they think about these issues, become more aware and more involved in fighting against social injustice and for doing the right thing. To the extent those efforts succeed, I find myself surrounded by a great variety of new and previously unexpected allies, in particular in the corporate world. To move forward on any issue, one must provoke debate, accept to work with people who disagree, and seek common ground – a reality that led me to develop convening abilities and to search for consensus.
What drives you?
Believing that I can contribute with a variety of allies to fight for change and help bring about a better world as an advocate, an independent lawyer/advisor, and through policy work. At their best, this is what law and being a lawyer are all about to me.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
Never taking “No” for an answer in the fight for just causes and achieving our ideals.