Glass walls, bright overhead lights and computer screens built into modern desks sit before a dais built for some of the world's pre-eminent legal minds, working on complex criminal cases in the heart of the modern city known as The Hague, due east of England across the waters of the North Sea.
It's a long, long way from Terre Haute, the western Indiana city where Sean Monkhouse grew up. But the setting is a dream come true for the IUPUI alumnus (B.A. '96, IU School of Liberal Arts; J.D. '06, IU School of Law-Indianapolis), now a court officer for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The ICTY, part of the United Nations (along with the nearby World Court, based in the Peace Palace), deals with crimes involving the countries that once made up Yugoslavia, the Eastern European nation torn apart by a bloody conflict and unspeakable war crimes during the 1990s.
Monkhouse's trek from Terre Haute to The Hague was anything but a straight line, and was fueled by one of the challenging international programs offered by the IUPUI-based law school: the Program on International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), run by Prof. George Edwards. PIHRL, built on a mixture of internships, partnerships and projects that stretch from one end of the Earth to the other, has produced a host of talented and knowledgeable lawyers and legal experts.
"It was a program that was made for me," says Monkhouse. "It opened my eyes and exposed me to the world. I couldn't be where I am, doing what I'm doing, without it."
In his early years, law school wasn't even on the radar screen of the Terre Haute native, who was born with a bit of wanderlust, growing up in a family that belonged to a travel-camping club.
"I took my first camping trip when I was three weeks old, and spent every summer on the road seeing America," says Monkhouse, who adds he loved traveling but was bored during the school year; he even flirted occasionally with trouble.
"I always felt like life was something that happened somewhere else; I always dreamed of traveling the world and going to exotic locations," he says.
After he graduated from Terre Haute North High School, Monkhouse moved to Indianapolis and earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1996, though it took him seven years to complete the work. During those years, he squeezed in as much travel as he could: motorcycle trips across the U.S., as well as trips to Europe, Mexico and Central America. After earning his degree, Monkhouse got a job as a technical writer and editor in Indianapolis.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001.
"I've always been rather opinionated politically and a bit of an activist," says Monkhouse. He opposed a war with Iraq, and events "devastated me like most people in the world." When his activism didn't produce the results he wanted, Monkhouse decided to "take my street-level activism into the courts," so he entered law school at IUPUI.
"The law school happened to have one of the top international programs on human rights law in the country, and the intern program really attracted me," Monkhouse says. PIHRL proved a perfect fit for a young man on a mission.
"Sean knew early on that he wanted to make a difference," says Edwards. "He was willing to go to virtually any country in the world to do human rights work."
Monkhouse's first internship was in Uganda in 2004, turning his classroom training into legal research for people in need. In 2005, he went to the Netherlands, this time as part of a team working on one of the legal world's biggest stages: the case against former Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. He was an intern legal officer in the registry, doing research on the rights and duties of the self-represented accused in international tribunals, since Milosevic represented himself. When he returned to the IUPUI campus, Monkhouse joined a team of students put together by Edwards to work on Milosevic's defense.
"I loved the work," he says. "The contacts I made during that internship led to my current position as a Court Officer, and my goal is to become a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court," the permanent version of the type of court he works for now. Monkhouse shares Edwards' passion for justice and long-held assertion that "international human rights law demands that individuals be afforded a fair trial, irrespective of how heinous the charges may be."
Life in Europe
His work keeps him busy, but the single father of two — 18-year-old Ian and 12-year-old Samantha — has settled into life in northern Europe.
"Both kids lived with me last year, though Ian moved back to Indy to finish school," he says. "Sam is still here and loving it; she's in a great international school, and we have a great group of friends from all over the world."
His children share his sense of adventure, and the city's location is ideal for the Monkhouse clan.
"The Hague is a great central location for exploring Europe; we've made weekend road rips to Belgium, France, Spain and Germany." Monkhouse has immersed himself in life in The Netherlands, sailing on the wind-blown North Sea and taking advantage of the beaches just blocks from his home. Though he says he has "never been a jock," he has become a regular at a nearby gym in the past year "to blow off stress after a day in court."
He has been surfing here and hopes to take up kite boarding — popular sports in the area — and has become an enthusiastic bicyclist, regularly riding through the dunes along the sea and plentiful green spaces. Those spaces are part of a city he has grown to love, filled with the energy of urban life, with clubs and cycling paths, top restaurants and museums, even "awesome graffiti" that dots the cityscape. Monkhouse admits he's "become addicted" to the Dutch music scene, the ubiquitous "techno" sound popular in clubs — and just about everywhere else.
"You can't walk into any kind of shop here without hearing the thump-thump-thump of hip-hop or techno music," he says. "Buying groceries? Techno music. Buying shoes? Techno. Stopping by the hardware store to pick up a few things for the house? Techno. It's a very urban, hip-hop scene."
Monkhouse occasionally "daydreams about sailing around the world, or maybe writing the great American novel," but his passion for justice has him focused squarely on a full-time prosecutor's job at the International Criminal Court.
"My goal is simple: I want to prosecute the thugs who target civilians whether they are wearing suicide vests or directing air campaigns," says Monkhouse, though he says his "end game is changing" and that the ideal is to "prevent criminals and crimes before they happen," which he considers the "Holy Grail of foreign policy and international diplomacy."
The PIHRL program — little more than a decade old and already with interns in more than 50 countries on six continents — is one of the biggest reasons Monkhouse feels upbeat about his prospects.
"I've got my foot in the door of the international law arena, and hope to gain experience in the years to come, with an eye to eventually move into a more diplomatic role," one which Monkhouse believes he "never would have had if it weren't for Professor Edwards."