Today was our second day in The Hague, Netherlands. Our site visits were meant to focus more on international law rather than human rights, like yesterday’s visits covered. Our first stop was the Peace Palace Visitor’s Center, where we were able to take a self-guided tour of the history of the palace and its courts. The Peace Palace houses the Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice, among other bodies. The Court of Arbitration was the first established in the Palace in 1899, supported in large part by the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because the U.S. is not a member of most international criminal courts. Another interesting fact about this court is that it is not a court by traditional means. It can only organize tribunals to help resolve conflicts between countries. The International Court of Justice, however, can indict countries. In the history presentation I learned that Andrew Carnegie, the steel entrepreneur from the States, gave 1.5 million dollars for the Peace Palace to be built, with the one condition that it house a library. Today, only international law students needing research and justices from the courts are typically allowed entry. As we were about to leave the palace, Dr. Fabry surprised us all by saying his book is in the library (but he’s never been allowed to go in).
After an amazing sandwich lunch at the Blossom Café, where we had warm apple pie, we headed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY. We first watched a short documentary on the Prijedor war crimes resulting from the ethnic cleansing in the region in the early 1990s. The documentary was hard-hitting and laid out facts of the tribunal. Of the 161 persons accused of crimes, there have been 80 convictions thus far. The tribunal has been working for 20 years and is being shut down in 2017. Listening to recordings of witness and accused testimony was chilling but also incredibly important because it showed just how much a court was needed to deal with the aftermath of the crisis in the area and how the tribunal is working so that this never happens again in the region. Our speaker was the head of the outreach program at the ICTY and originally from Serbia. Her talk about the trials and what her office is doing with school kids around the world was fascinating to me. She told stories of going to schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina and being met with resistance because so many people there still deny the atrocities ever occurred. Another fact she mentioned was that this tribunal was the first to make sexual violence as a war crime punishable in the court. She followed this up by stating that 40% of the accused had this charge levied against them.
After the briefing we had the chance to visit the courtroom where many of these trials have taken place. While we were there no hearings were happening so we could sit and talk normally about the room. One thing our guide mentioned was that witness protection was of utmost importance to the court and pointed out measures to keep their identities if they wished, private. The glass was specially made to not allow visitors to see the face of the witness while testifying. There is also a 30 minute lag between what is said in the courtroom and what is aired online. This gives the cameramen time to cut any sensitive information that could lead to the identity of the witness. Finally, on the viewing screens, if a witness is remaining anonymous, their face and voice will be distorted. This site visit was probably the most interesting one we’ve had since arriving in The Hague and I know we all came out knowing exactly why the ICTY and similar tribunals matter and why we must be vigilant to deter this type of violence from happening again.