Youth Month: LLM student’s international internship ‘opens window of opportunity’

06 June 2024 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Supplied. Read time 8 min.
John Singbae II
John Singbae II

An opportunity to pursue an internship at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany has been an experience of a lifetime and has solidified John Singbae II’s love and fascination for this niche area of law.

Singbae II is completing his master’s in law (LLM), specialising in international law, at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Earlier this year, in a landmark moment, he was selected as one of only four students from around the world to participate in a three-month internship programme offered by the tribunal in Hamburg in northern Germany. The internship programme kickstarted at the beginning of April and runs until the end of June.

“I am delighted to have been afforded this opportunity to fly UCT’s flag high in Germany and to represent our beautiful continent on this international stage. It’s been an honour and a privilege and most certainly a career highlight that has opened a window of opportunity for me,” Singbae II said. 

Fascination and connection

For Singbae II, the way in which international law regulates the vast, open ocean has long been a fascination. And when he enrolled for his master’s at UCT and someone mentioned the Faculty of Law’s Shipping Law Unit – a unit in the Department of Commercial Law dedicated to the law of the sea and mercantile law – he was intrigued.

And so, his love for the law of the sea blossomed. During the first semester of his LLM, he enrolled for a course on international law of the sea. And later that year, a course on international environmental law, which dealt with marine and environmental protection of the sea, piqued his interest and he signed up as well. Singbae II was hooked.


“This is how I developed an immense interest and unquestionable desire to pursue a career in international law of the sea.”

“This is how I developed an immense interest and unquenchable desire to pursue a career in international law of the sea,” he said. “In addition, my home country, Liberia, is ranked as the country with the highest global tonnage. What this means is that 14% of vessels on the ocean fly the Liberian flag. So, for me, it’s necessary to pursue further research in this area of law, given my country’s role and history in maritime trade,” he said.  

A rigorous selection

When this internship opportunity came knocking, Singbae II felt the tribunal was the perfect place to nurture his love for this niche area of law. It also presented a good opportunity for self-development. The tribunal offers internships to current students and recent graduates in law, international relations, public relations, political science, library science and translation, annually. Interns work under the supervision of registry officials on matters relevant to the tribunal’s work. The three-month programme allows students to gain insight into how the tribunal functions and to participate in their work.

After a rigorous selection process, which included sifting through 1 000 applicants, Singbae II got word that his application was successful – a proud moment for UCT and his country of birth. But what’s extra special, he said, according to the tribunal’s alumni database, is that he’s one of only two UCT students who have been accepted into the programme.

“This is a huge achievement because of the calibre of graduates that UCT produces. Yet, I am only the second student to intern here, and the first from my home country. I hope that by accepting this internship and successfully completing it, others, especially young students, would be motivated to sign up as well,” he said.

A day at the office

With just a few weeks to go before his internship concludes, Singbae II said he enjoyed “every minute of it”. He described the tribunal as one of very few international buildings in Germany with contemporary architecture, which has made coming to work an “absolute pleasure”. He starts his day at 09:00 and the day is filled to the brim with a list of tasks. He assists legal officers with research and drafting and preparing press reviews, particularly those related to public international law issues. He also attends online webinars organised by the tribunal’s press office to broaden his understanding on different subjects related to the law of the sea. As part of the programme’s requirements, each intern is also required to produce a dissertation on a topic of their choice by the end of their stint. Naturally, a part of his day is dedicated to working on this important assignment.


“This experience has given me a more succinct understanding of how international judicial bodies function and I now have the gist of what it’s like to work in a multinational environment.”

Singbae II believes that he joined the tribunal at just the right time, as judges deliberate on a request for a ground-breaking advisory opinion on climate change and international law. This request was submitted by the Commission of Small Island States. The case, he added, teaches him something new each day and allows him to interface closely with judges and staff in their respective roles.

“I’ve had a wonderful experience. This opportunity has given me a more succinct understanding of how international judicial bodies function and I now have the gist of what it’s like to work in a multinational environment,” Singbae II said.

Enriching experience

As he reflected on his time at the tribunal, he described it as an enriching and rewarding experience, which has challenged his thinking on multiple levels and has forced him to produce some of his best work.

“Given the variety of subjects I’ve been requested to work on, ranging from fisheries violation, protection of the marine environment, maritime law enforcement and maritime delimitation – spanning different judicial systems – I take great pride in the enormity and complexity of the challenges I am tasked with solving. I feel challenged and fulfilled, and that makes me happy,” he said.

And while he experienced some hiccups in the beginning, such as maintaining a work–life balance, as well as the same enthusiastic energy from 09:00 to 17:00, his “listening-to-my-body” strategy kept him on top of his game and helped him remain efficient.

As for his biggest learning over the past three months …

“The wonderful staff here have taught me that the more you learn, the less you think you know. It’s been a humbling and intriguing experience that I will never forget or take for granted,” he said.

Dream big

This Youth Month, Singbae II encouraged the young folk to dream big and use each day as an opportunity to move closer towards achieving those dreams. And even though they may seem lofty and difficult to attain, he said, nothing is impossible.

“I hope that this experience and my story will serve as an inspiration for the African child in Langa and Lagos, Monrovia, Duala and Queenstown who is dreaming of making global impacts in different fields,” he said.

“The windows of opportunity are open, it’s up to you to use them wisely.”

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Youth Month 2024

Youth Month 2024

In celebration of Youth Month, UCT News will feature profiles of young individuals from the University of Cape Town (UCT) community who are making meaningful contributions to positive change in South Africa. June is a significant month in the country, marking the commemoration of the tragic events of 16 June 1976, when hundreds of young people lost their lives protesting against unjust education policies.




“The windows of opportunity are open, it’s up to you to use them wisely.”
John Singbae II, LLM candidate specialising in international law at the University of Cape Town


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