Go Back

Matias Hellman

Born May 16, 1971, Espoo

Master of Arts 2004 (Slavic languages and cultures), University of Helsinki
Master of Laws 2004 (LLM), University of Essex

External Relations Adviser 2010–, International Criminal Court (ICC)
Legacy Officer 2008–2010, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Liaison Officer 2004–2008, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Outreach Coordinator 1999–2003, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Media Analyst 1998–99, Observer Finland

Znati and um(j)eti in Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian. Grammaticalisation of Habitual Auxiliaries. Slavica Helsingiensia, Helsingin Yliopisto, 2005.

The International Criminal Court: the need to foster cooperation, in "Legal dimension of international community: mosaic elements", Centre Européen de Coopération Juridique, 2013. (with Alexander Khodakov and Julie Fraser)

Challenges and limitations of outreach: from the ICTY to the ICC, in "Contested Justice. The Politics and Practice of the International Criminal Court Interventions", Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Photo: Matias Hellman's archive
Written by
Matias Hellman and Tero Juutilainen
Translated by Matthew Billington

A Language Student Working for the ICC

Matias Hellman began his studies at the University of Helsinki in 1990. It took a few years before he reached any kind of certainty as to what field to pursue.

– First I studied mathematics. It was my favourite subject in upper secondary school, but at university it failed to keep my interest. The next year I enrolled in business school. In 1992 I was drawn to studying Finnish, and the following year I tried studying music education at the Sibelius Academy. Of these subjects, only Finnish ended up being one of my minors.

Ultimately, Hellman chose Slavonic languages and cultures at the Faculty of Arts as his major, with Serbo-Croatian as his primary language. On a whim he had already started studying the language in his first year at university.

– I Interrailed in Yugoslavia in 1990. The local language seemed interesting and something that could be relatively easy to learn. I have always enjoyed languages, and it was clear that whatever I ended up studying, languages would be a part of it. Furthermore, I had already studied Russian at school, so I had a strong foundation for Slavic languages.

As is typical for a humanities student, Hellman gave little thought to employment during his studies. He studied whatever interested him.

– In retrospect I probably should have given more thought to working life. I certainly intend to advise my own children to think a bit sooner about the relationship between their studies and their future careers. Not that you should instantly rush down any one career path, but you should at least be conscious of all the possibilities and the consequences of your choices.

Serbo-Croatian is a small subject at the University of Helsinki, so there are few who speak it. Hellman already found work during his studies as a public sector interpreter. He had no particular plans to head abroad, but after a friend informed him of a job opportunity that required knowledge of Serbo-Croatian, he decided to seize the day.

– Complete fluency in Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian, at least in the 1990s, was relatively rare in Finland. On the other hand, at the time of my graduation, there weren’t so many jobs requiring those languages either. Fortunately, in 1999 I found employment at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established by the United Nations. I have not regretted going abroad.

Hellman first worked for a total of four years in Croatia and Serbia in the field offices of the ICTY, which is located in The Hague, Netherlands. It was there too that he met his wife, a Serbian lawyer whose work also involves matters related to war crimes.

While working as a publicist, Hellman became interested in international law, and he and his wife ended up moving to England, because at the University of Essex it was possible to complete a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in international human rights law in one year without previous law studies.

– It was rewarding to get away from the hectic schedule of working life and dedicate myself to thinking, reading, learning and writing with the freedom of a student. The courses felt particularly interesting as I had been dealing with the same issues in my work. I had first thought about applying to study human rights in the MA programme at Essex, but ultimately an LLM was definitely the better choice when it came to working in international organisations.

Matias Hellman’s studies were of particular use when he began working for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

– With my second degree I had reinforced my existing expertise and became formally qualified in international law, although I am not an attorney in the sense of being able to represent someone in a court of law.”

Former Registry Liaison officer Matias Hellman giving a presentation on ICTY judgements in Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 29, 2007. Photo from the ICTY.


Go Back