After having some great traditional Dutch Pancakes and a cool walk down the beach the evening before, we went back to business. Our first site visit in The Hague was to the International Criminal Court. It was a beautiful glass covered building with a nice “moat” in between the security clearance and the actual entrance of the building. After passing the security check we were all busy admiring the picturesque view of the building, which unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of.
A very insightful intellectual conversation with our lovely TA Emma Smith followed where she mentioned the criticisms that surround the court’s impartiality and legitimacy. We learnt that the United States was one of the countries that opted out of the Treaty of Rome which ratified by 124 countries established the International Criminal Court.
We had a short tour of the history and purpose of the court. Using iPhone-like devices and headsets we went through the exhibition learning about the procedures the court undergoes in order to persecute those who commit crimes against humanity in the world. A particularly interactive segment of the tour involved a camera and microphone that displayed how the evidence provided by witnesses is distorted in order to keep them anonymous and safe. Following this tour, a representative of the communications division of the court gave us a briefing on the current cases of the court. We learnt about previous convictions the court had made and about the big role that cooperation between the member states and the court played in order to make the process work.
We were given a choice over which on-going trial to observe and were taken to the gallery to do so. It was a unique experience. It really changed our perspective of the court to actually get to see it in action. The prosecuting team announced to the judge that they were going to play a video as evidence. The defense objected and said the video hadn’t been presented at the start of the trial and therefore they hadn’t had the chance to confirm its origins and accuracy. This discussion brought forward another case in itself where the accused had to be taken out of the room while the court decided whether the video should be played. After a 30 min recess the decision was that the video could be played. We were all awaiting to watch it but then the prosecution decided to do a “short” interrogation of the accused to preface the video. This turned into a showcase of the poor management of the translators, where the English and French versions contradicted each other and the accused had to repeat his testimony over and over. At some point, he even spoke in English to clarify a fact contested by the translators.
Long story short, we sat in the gallery for 2 hours in order to watch a 30 second video that at the end got pushed back to the afternoon session which we couldn’t attend. So much for efficiency in the International Criminal Court I guess.
Next up was the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). We started with a short briefing where the position of the ICTY under the MICT was explained, as well as its own characteristics. The ICTY was scheduled to finish its cases and close permanently on December 2017, so we felt very lucky to have the chance to visit it before then. We got to observe an ongoing retrial of two politicians of the former Yugoslavia who were accused of purposefully pushing away Serbians from the areas of the country they were in charge of. The first trial had acquitted them, but now they were being retried. This case had more information and seemed to be moving forward much more efficiently than the one at the ICC, however a large part of it was held in private session. This meant that in order for confidential information to be discussed in the court room, the recording was silent and us observers couldn’t hear what was being said in the room. A particularly long private session brought us to leave the court.
Overall, we had a very exciting day where we had the chance to watch on-going trials in two widely recognized international courts. We had never been so close to the inner operations of international law as today. It was a unique experience to see how the courts operate and formulate our own opinions and views on the efficiency and accuracy of each of the courts.