This morning was simultaneously both somber and hectic for most of us as we said our final goodbyes to our host families and rushed to store our luggage in our hotel in time to catch our train to The Hague. It was sad to leave our home-away-from-home after having been so immersed in Brussels with such amazing host families for almost two months, but still invigorating to think about what all we have in store for us the next three weeks in The Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Kraków. The train ride through the beautiful countryside of Flanders and the rural southern Netherlands lasted a little over two hours, and I think it is definitely safe to say that none of us were disappointed upon arrival. The Hague’s architecture stuck out to me above all else, as it was very original and contemporary, but still easily comparable to cities like Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent in Flanders.
After dropping off our luggage at our hotel, we journeyed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We started off by observing a hearing of evidence in the trial of Ratko Mladać (facing two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of violations of laws/customs of war). It was a surreal experience to see a person who initially seems so friendly and amiable, only to later have the revelation that he has more than likely murdered thousands of innocent people. The judges wore bright red, intimidating suits and held an essence of regality. You almost could feel the power and prestige of the ICC. After the trial viewing, we went to a lecture describing the structure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the overall causes/judicial outcomes of the Balkan Wars.
Our speaker began by contrasting the prominent Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and the more contemporary ICTY trials, with the latter requiring a larger emphasis on cooperation with local authority to apprehend human rights violators. I found this particular aspect interesting as it showed the constraints on an international court having to work within the confines of an anarchic, sovereignty-based system. After WWII, the winners were allowed to operate with complete authority within their respective territories (where the majority of criminals were located). In the case of the Balkan Wars though, there were no real “winners” and the burden of justly prosecuting the perpetrators fell largely on the international community. Thus, international cooperation with local authority through the ICTY was the most efficient, effective way to apprehend and place war criminals on trial in the International Criminal Court.
After leaving the ICTY, we took a short tram ride to Statenkwartier, a busy, quaint neighborhood near the coast. We tried Dutch Stroopwaffles and a variety of amazing, exotic cheeses at the Kalkman cheese shop. It was well worth the walk to get to sample so many delicious, Dutch specialties. After eating our fair share of Stroopwaffles and cheese, we headed back to the hotel to eat dinner and rest up for our visit to the Dutch parliament tomorrow. It was definitely a great introduction to The Hague and our stay in the Netherlands!
Watching the tribunal was an intense experience, especially after an accused mass murderer and military general waved at us through the glass window. I found the lecture afterward very refreshing – our speaker had so much energy and was very open and honest about his work and the history of the ICTY. It was a surreal transition from the trial to the lecture to walking around the quaint city eating cheese and pastries.
I really enjoyed our visit to ICTY as well! I did not know much about the horrible war crimes that occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was such a surreal way to learn more about it. I find it very interesting that these courts are working with little precedent, and they are in a way making it up as they go. Great post!
Thanks Jasper! This was a really great post. It was indescribable being in the presence of someone who was being tried for so many war crimes. What I found interesting was the intense atmosphere of cross examination process. Even more fascinating was we only saw one day of the trial and they occur for years.
Hey Jasper! I really enjoyed your blogpost too. The ICTY case was so intriguing. Being in the presence of someone who has committed so many war crimes creates an indescribable feeling. The atmosphere was very tense as we watched the cross examination. What stood out to me was the high stress process we viewed occurs for years and we were only part of it for one day.
The ICTY definitely brought out the pre-law geek in me, and being able to say that a war criminal has given me a thumbs up is definitely interesting.
This was a really great post Jasper! I also thought the ICTY was so intriguing. It definitely took me a back when we all walked in, and many members in the court room were distracted, and began to look at us as opposed to listening to the proceedings. This is also a testament of how socially isolated these people are. ICTY cases take about 3-4 years to come to a verdict, and during that time all members of the court are in The Hague working on the same work, and seeing the same people everyday. I’m sure they aren’t use to having spectators in these court cases. On another note, I didn’t know much about these horrible crimes in Bosnia and Serbia, and i’m glad we took a visits it to the ICTY so I could become more informed on International Justice.
Jasper, I too enjoyed our time at the ICTY. It was really interesting to hear a witness be cross examined and to be in the presence of a man who commanded an army who committed outrageous human rights abuses. I also liked that we got a de-briefing that talked us through the trail we saw a part of and the happenings of the ICTY. Being born in the 90s, the occurrences of the former Yugoslavia are not common knowledge for our generation, but it should be. So it was nice to have some first hand experience with history and to learn more about it.
Great blog post Jasper! I’m glad you liked the ICTY as much as I did. I thought it was really, really neat that we got to watch a trial in action. It amazed me that this trial (among others) have been going on for years. It was a bit unsettling when Mladać waved to us before we left…. but ultimately, it was one of my favorite things we’ve done so far!
Really great that you all had a chance to see the ICC in action! The juxtaposition against Russia’s veto of a resolution in the UNSC calling the mass killings in Srebrenica genocide is a sobering one.