Matias Thomsen has helped put war criminals on trial in The Hague, taught children in Greek refugee camps, assisted asylum seekers at Pontville Detention Centre, and become an expert in international humanitarian law along the way.
But when he started his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at university, Matias wasn’t even sure that studying law was right for him.
“I sort of remember choosing law kind of on a whim,” recalls Matias.
I got a high enough entrance score that I was thinking, ‘Okay, I can get into law so maybe I’ll give it a crack’, but I hadn’t done any legal subjects prior to university.
“To be honest, in my first semester I was a little disillusioned with it. Some parts were really interesting, but I didn’t think I wanted to be a lawyer.”
But then in his the second semester, Matias attended a series of lectures on international humanitarian law that were delivered by Reverend Professor Michael Tate AO, who was Foreign Minister under the Keating Government.
“He gave a fantastic series of lectures that just really grabbed me,” says Matias.
“It was almost instant during those lectures I realised that this was a career path I wanted to follow.”
“The lectures didn’t shy away from the difficulties facing humankind, but at the same time they had a positive note to it and showed some of the success stories.”
I realised that international law was a way for me to do something I was interested in and an opportunity to contribute to a more just world.
After completing his undergraduate degree, Matias received the Tim Hawkins Memorial Scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to work as a legal research assistant at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
It allowed Matias to get first-hand experience working with complex cases in international criminal law involving war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“It was an amazing thing to be a part of,” says Matias.
“Even as a first year legal assistant, you’re expected to engage in quite detailed research and help prepare technical legal briefs and submissions.”
“You need to jump in the deep end and learn to swim pretty quickly, but you have an important job to do and it’s a fantastic opportunity for anybody.”
Currently, Matias is working as a legal consultant in international humanitarian law, and completing his PhD. His research is on the role International Criminal Court judges can play in the progressive development of international humanitarian law.