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!