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Michaela Markova | United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

  • MA Law, The University of Law (2020 - 2022)
  • MPhil Political Science, University of Vienna (2005 - 2010)
  • Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
  • Investigater/Human Rights Officer, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2023)
  • Lawyer, Free Yezidi Foundation (2022 - 2023)
  • Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, the United Nations 2019 - 2022)
  • Political Affairs Officer, the United Nations (2016 - 2019)
  • Research & Donor Coordinator, Afghanistan Research & Evaluation Unit (2014 - 2016)
  • Head of Programs - Democratic Republic of the Congo, People in Need (2013 - 2014)


Alumna Michaela Markova studied our MA Law through our Online campus while working  for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). She started her career working on various humanitarian and development projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Her work inspired her to study law so she could move into investigations of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law. We caught up with Michaela to discuss her vital work and how her studies with us allowed her to follow her dreams.

I originally studied political science and always wanted to work for the United Nations in conflict mediation and negotiations, to help bring peace to countries in or after the conflict. My career after university, however, took me to the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector, where I worked as Head of Programmes and Country Director in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq implementing various humanitarian and development projects.

With the view to working closer to the area of my studies, I became a researcher in Afghanistan on transitional justice. Interviewing victims of grave human rights violations on the ground, it became clear to me that there cannot be peace without justice for victims. That was the moment when I decided to work on justice-related issues. And for that, I needed a law degree.  However, my new studies came only after I started working for the United Nations, where I was supporting a group of investigators investigating sanction violations in Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I realised that not only there is no peace without justice, but also there is no justice without evidence. That brought me to investigations, where I am now.

I am currently working as Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna. Broadly speaking, our Office provides training, guidance materials and legal advice to requesting Member States which are in the process of reforming their police and criminal justice systems. Among other responsibilities, I am also using my previous experience investigating violations of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law, to support colleagues in my Office who are dealing specifically with the issues of police reform, investigations and interviewing of victims and witnesses.

My proudest career moment was in 2022 when I finished my law degree at The University of Law (while having a full-time job) and got a job as a lawyer and investigator with an NGO investigating crimes committed by ISIS on the Yezidi community in Iraq. This work experience led to another investigatory job within the United Nations, namely with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), where I investigated violations of human rights, humanitarian and criminal law committed in the Northern Ethiopia during the war. It was extremely rewarding to be able to utilize my newly acquired legal and investigatory skills in helping people directly on the ground.

My friend and former fellow student Cecilia Andrei inspired me with her hard work, despite having to work full-time during her studies. We were co-leading together a student society discussing questions of international law during our time at the University and I was always struck by her knowledge and motivation to make a change in this world. She is also a very good human being, always ready to support as a friend.  

To be a successful lawyer and investigator within international justice you need to focus on:

  • Knowledge of effective interviewing methods in line with international law (such as PEACE model) as well as empathy. You need to be able to understand what the victims and witnesses of atrocities went through. These help to prevent their re-victimisation.
  • Knowledge of open-source investigations, which is a relatively new but booming area of investigation. Also, a basic knowledge of open-source intelligence (OSINT) research is essential.
  • Having networks. International justice is a niche area of work and it is helpful to know people already in this area you can turn to for career advice.
  • Self-care. Listening to testimonies of victims and witnesses of atrocity crimes is hard and one needs to know how to take care of themselves to decompress.

My top three tips for students aiming to break into international law are…

  1. Try getting to know as many people as possible already working in this area and ask for their career advice and tips.

  2. Know what role you would want to have in 5-10 years, find out what skills and experience you need for this role and go out and get them. Remember that, more often than not, the path to your goal is not linear. You will not be able to get all the skills and experiences needed in one job and sometimes you will have a seemingly unrelated job. But as long as you are learning the skills you need you are on a good path.

  3. Never stop trying, you will get there eventually. In the meantime, do not forget to take good care of yourself.

My career is incredibly rewarding because I have experienced what life truly looks like in conflict and post-conflict countries. You get to know the people, and their culture – no book, article or training can give you that level of understanding. Indeed, it has some downsides, but it was worth it for me. I really wanted to experience it myself instead of learning about the country from the reports, books and media.

Expand your career opportunities, just like Michaela, by studying a postgraduate law course with us.


By Cara Fielder. Published 10 June 2024.



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