Part 2: We will continue from where we left off in The Hague on Sunday evening after driving from Amsterdam and the Anne Frank house. On Monday morning we were booked for two briefings: one at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the other at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Just a quick lesson on international courts before we proceed. The ICJ is a venue in which STATES can sue one another over things like a violation of a treaty or sovereignty, etc. The ICC is a court in which the international community – “the court” – charges and tries international war criminals. The ICC was set up by the Rome Statute, which provides the jurisdiction of the court over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
At the ICJ, a legal aide spoke to us about her work in assisting the judge from the UK. We had lunch there and explored the Peace Palace (which is the building the court is housed in). In the afternoon we had a briefing by Judge Sylvia Steiner of Brazil, the presiding judge at the ICC over the case of Jean-Pierrre Bemba Gombo of the Central African Republic, who is charged with crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging). For more information about this case click here.
After the ICC, I was ready for something a little uplifting so I went for a walk along the beach of the North Sea. It was windy, but the sun was shining. Scheveningen is a resort town during the summer, but during the off season it is a sleepy beach town with closed ice cream parlors and beach shack restaurants. I walked all the way to the detention center for those being tried at the various Hague courts. It’s really quite nice.
On Tuesday we visited yet another court: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The ICTY has been in existence for quite some time now, and its mandate is running out. However, they just recently brought into custody the ICTY’s last fugitive and most of the trials have been completed and the defendants have been sentenced.
We were fortunate enough to visit on a trial day. In fact, we got to sit in on the trial of Radovan Karadzic, who is representing himself although he has been indicted for genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts, acts of violence, the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population, unlawful attack on civilians, and the taking of hostages (to name a few). We also had a briefing at the ICTY, but sitting ten feet away from a suspected mass murderer, separated from me only by space and bulletproof glass, is not something I will soon forget.
In the afternoon we moved to one of the other major special courts in the Hague: the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSR). One of the three judges for the final case spoke with us about her experience, although she couldn’t say much about the case since the verdict is expected at the end of the month. The case at the SCSR is a high profile one that you may have heard about. Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, has been indicted for crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and other violations of International Humanitarian Law (the law of armed conflict). To read more about this case click here.
At the end of Tuesday, I needed some entertainment, so a few of us walked down the street to the movie theater to see The Hunger Games, with Dutch subtitles. There was hardly anyone in the theater and we had a great time, plus the movie was great- I recommend it.
On Wednesday we left The Hague, which ended up being one of my favorite stops of the entire trip, and moved on to Belgium. After an unplanned stop at Waterloo, we arrived the the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe or SHAPE. Now, I know that SHAPE sounds like some sort of ’80s fitness regimen, but it’s actually the headquarters for all NATO military operations. We ate a buffet lunch at the Officer’s Club which was followed by two briefings. If you were curious, NATO intervention in Syria is NOT on the table. SHAPE is located in Mons, Belgium – so we actually had to drive back from where we had come from to arrive at our final trip destination: Brussels.
The evening in Brussels consisted of an optional tour which included Belgian waffles and pomme frites (french fries, invented by the Belgians, btw). After a delicious tasting of Belgian fast food it was definitely time for bed. Our hotel was located right off the Grand Place (the main square in Brussels), which is famous for its architecture and historical significance.
On Thursday, we began the European Union extravaganza which included the Economic and Social Committee of the EU as well as the European Commission. In the evening we had our final group dinner at Eekhorn, the most delicious of Belgian restaurants. And on Friday, the EU-fest continued with the European Parliament! We ended the briefings with NATO headquarters where the Deputy Chief of Mission of the USA spoke with us.
Finally, the weekend. And what a weekend it was. On Saturday we drove to Bruges and watched the movie In Bruges which is an extremely depressing movie about a beautiful city. On the way we stopped at Sanctuary Wood, one of the only remaining WWI trench warfare sites. We walked through the trenches and wandered through piles of shells, helmets, and other various tools of war.
”In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.” -John McCrae, 1915
In Bruges we wandered through chocolate shops, tapestry stores and ate frites. It is a beautiful city, and I wish we had been able to spend more time there. On Sunday we were given a free day. We went shopping; although all of the major mall shops were closed, the tourist markets and shops were open. We ventured to a flea market with a Swedish couple we met and were overwhelmed by the variety of items being sold: jewelry, clothing, scarves, stoves, art, tools, tableware, etc. Unfortunately, Sunday was an unlucky day for a few members of the class. At the flea market, a camera was stolen out of my friend’s pocket and later that evening outside of our hotel, a girl had her purse stolen…with her passport inside. So, on Monday morning as we all headed to the airport, she stayed behind with one of the professors to go to her embassy (Norwegian) and have her passport replaced, as well as her U.S. Visa. Moral of the story: don’t get your passport stolen.