Tanishtha Vaid holds a B.A. LL.B. from the Gujarat National Law University. She pursued her LL.M. in International Legal Studies at New York University, where she held the title of Transitional Justice Scholar and Human Rights Scholar. She has served as an advisor to the Permanent Mission of Maldives to the United Nations and is currently assisting the Office of the Legal Counsel at the United Nations.
How did you decide to pursue international relations and what prompted you to change gears?
Tanishtha: I was first introduced to the world of international relations through extra-curricular activities in high-school and had drawn an immediate fascination with the world of diplomacy and international law. As I did not hail from a family of lawyers, my interest in the subject was grounded only in the fantastical world of Model United Nations Simulations. I realised that by attending law school, I would be exposed to a host of subjects, including international relations, diplomacy and international law. Going to law school in India strengthened my determination to explore international law, especially international humanitarian law and international criminal law. I soon realised that successful international lawyers that hailed from India had all pursued varying paths and that there was no set-formula to excel in the field. Consequently, I devised a step-ladder approach. The approach included working at prestigious human rights organizations in India and then shifting my focus to the remaining States in the South Asian region. I assisted institutions in Nepal and Bangladesh which deal closely with human rights and international law-related issues. And as a result, by the end of my undergraduate degree, I was able to secure long-term internships at the United Nations International Law Commission. Having participated in international internships, summer courses and moot court competition, I knew that to cement my footing the field of international law I needed to move to New York, which is home to the largest diplomatic community in the world. Hence, I pursued my Masters' Degree in International Law at New York University, and am currently assisting the Office of the Legal Counsel at the United Nations.
How would you compare mainstream legal practice with your current profession?
Tanishtha: The role of an international lawyer may range from conducting intensive armchair research to litigating before international courts/tribunals. Unlike mainstream legal practice, an international lawyer is often required to combine diplomatic know-how with knowledge of various bodies of law and the practices of national jurisdictions. The lifecycle of an international lawyer allows exposure to a variety of roles, including the role of a treaty negotiator, a countries’ representatives to an international organization or an amicus curiae before an international court. As a downside, international lawyers could lack the professional stability enjoyed by an established domestic legal practitioner.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Tanishtha: Having worked with international organization and States, I have been exposed to the right mix of research as well as practical work. Working with such prestigious employers, not only provided me with direct access to highly-sensitive information but also made it routine to interact with high-level State officials and experts in the field. Additionally, my work has allowed me to touch on a range of issues, including the U.S. programme of illegal rendition and detention at CIA black sites in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay and the impact of sea-level rise on Small Island Developing States. Lastly, having gained professional experience in States across South Asia, I enjoy bringing a different perspective into a legal team.
What advice would you give to young women lawyers aspiring to have a journey similar to yours?
Tanishtha: At the outset, ask yourself if you have an affinity for the theoretical aspects of international law, for it forms the crux of an international lawyer's work. As a next step, test your knowledge and harness your passion in a professional work-space. It is vital that at every step, you continue to leverage your resources, including your relationships with colleagues and professors. The international legal fraternity is a tightly built network; everyone knows everyone else, so make your relationships count.