Last summer, law student Kristina Aiad-Toss spent two months in El Salvador interning for International Partners in Mission, a non-profit that engages in community development projects abroad to help women and children in 66 countries. It was her second internship abroad, and like her first, it was a defining experience.
“For a long time, I knew I wanted to work in developing countries, helping people improve their lives through greater access to economic opportunities and at minimum, basic supplies,” said Aiad-Toss. “At the time, I wasn’t sure what the best degree to get would be, so I viewed my education as a way of gaining a skillset.”
While studying philosophy, political science and economics from the University of Akron, Aiad-Toss took a summer internship with The U.S. Mission to the United Nations (UN) in Rome, which helps advance UN efforts in the areas of food security, emergency food aid, food safety standards, agriculture, fisheries, forests and financing for rural development.
“That internship put me on my career path,” said Aiad-Toss. “I met so many dedicated lawyers who were working behind the scenes on important development projects. I saw the work they were doing, the impact they were making and how the law can be a catalyst for change. They were my inspiration for becoming a lawyer.”
Now heading into her third and final year of law school, Aiad-Toss has already started to make a difference.
During her internship with International Partners Mission in El Salvador, Aiad-Toss and fellow intern Brenna Dilley visited rural communities throughout the country, interviewing civilians who escaped massacres orchestrated by Salvadoran military fighters, guerilla fighters who took up arms in opposition to the military and community members living in areas that are now controlled by gangs.
The testimonials, along with additional research, formed the backbone of the white paper authored by Aiad-Toss and Dilley, “Aiding and Abetting Terror in El Salvador: Holding the United States Responsible for War Crimes Committed During the Salvadoran Civil War,” which was released by IPM in February.
The white paper provides a legal analysis of aiding and abetting as a war crime under international criminal law, outlining how the U.S. trained, advised and provided weapons to the Salvadoran military to facilitate the commission of war crimes against civilians including murder, torture, sexual violence and forced disappearance.
“We hoped to publish the paper in the context of the current Central American migration crisis by explaining how the gang violence and other push factors of migration can be traced to U.S. actions during the Civil War,” said Aiad-Toss. “By demonstrating U.S. responsibility for the deeply rooted conflicts in El Salvador today, we advocate that the U.S. is indebted to the Salvadoran people and should accept and aid Salvadorans facing challenges posed by economic instability, gang violence and migration.”
After Aiad-Toss’s internship ended, she stayed on as a community outreach coordinator for IPM for an additional nine months, assisting with nonprofit programming and educational initiatives surrounding human rights, sustainable development, migration and other social justice issues affecting IPM’s program regions.
Aiad-Toss now works as a part-time consultant for IPM, in addition to her summer work as a Klatsky Fellow at Human Rights Watch and as a law clerk for Margolius, Margolius and Associates, LPA.
She also serves as the communications officer for the law school’s Yemen Accountability Project, a collaboration between Case Western Reserve School of Law, the Syrian Accountability Project of Syracuse University and the Global Accountability Initiative to document war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Yemen.
Get to know Kristina more in this week’s five questions.
1. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?
When I started school at CWRU and moved to Coventry, my favorite restaurant in Cleveland became Tommy’s. I love all of the options they have there (yes, including the milkshakes) and it’s been a go-to spot for me whether I need a bite to eat or want to get some studying done. If I’m doing brunch or breakfast, you can find me at the Inn on Coventry.
2. What’s the most difficult class you’ve ever taken?
Business Associations. I really enjoyed the subject matter in this class because I am interested in international business law, however, we covered a lot in a short amount of time. There were so many laws to learn and a lot of exceptions and variations in the legal framework to keep in mind.
3. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you pick?
Out in the Andes Mountains in Peru. I experienced the most beautiful natural landscapes I have ever seen during the four-day hike I did to Machu Picchu. My dream home would be out in the Andes somewhere living near a lake or river and next to a small village that I could walk to. I would probably retreat to this place whenever working in the city was overwhelming or if I needed to getaway.
4. What famous person—alive or deceased—would you most like to meet?
I would pick Alan Watts. When I am feeling down or stressed out, I end up listening to one of his lectures on Youtube. I love his philosophy and the way he puts life’s struggles into perspective. It’s always a nice burst of positivity to listen to him talk about life and I appreciate the lessons he gives for how to live day to day.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
My favorite thing about law school is the amazing faculty that have supported me throughout my time here, and all of the opportunities I have had to learn about different fields of international law. Another great thing about Case [Western Reserve] is being so close to many museums and green spaces. When I am stressed out or need a change of scenery, I love going on a walk around campus or spending some time at the botanical garden or the art museum.