Colleen Luibrand and Rodas Beyene couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.
It was late November, and a sentencing hearing was underway in the final case at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where the two Northeastern students were working on co-op. The tribunal’s charge was to carry out justice for atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.
Luibrand and Beyene had been busy all morning, working with prosecutors and coordinating with other offices in preparation for the day’s proceedings. Beyene watched the hearing from the public gallery, through a glass wall separating them from the courtroom. Luibrand watched on the television in the press office.
Then came the moment when a U.N. judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for former Bosnian Croat military commander Slobodan Praljak. Seconds later, Praljak shouted something in Croatian that Luibrand and Beyene didn’t understand at the time—“I am not a war criminal!”—and drank a liquid from a small bottle later revealed to be poison. The hearing abruptly halted, and Praljak was rushed to a hospital where he later died.