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The Hague February 1-13, 2007

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Thursday, 1 February 2007

A new month. I’m ready for a fresh start. Though I don’t like to develop cynical attitudes, especially not toward anything just at face value, January’s been a bad month for the past few years. It brought serious health concerns to a best friend, death to my grandfather, and this year, strained personal relations with those at home. This strain has made me spend a lot of time thinking about why I decided to do this year on my own, and what commitments and sacrifices it came with. Even just having to recall those things makes me think about how I’m operating here. It makes me think about a letter co-Fellow Jared left me here at the Court when I arrived, warning me to stay focused on challenging myself, since being back in a Western environment, a standard office community, and a comfortable social life facilitates complacency and a (perhaps) detrimental routine.

Somewhat consciously, and somewhat without realizing it, I’ve slipped into that routine and it’s sort of stalled me here. This placement came at an interesting point in my year, in the midst of two other potentially more challenging, foreign, exotic, experiences. In the planning of it, that seemed smart. I would have three months to recharge after China, to gear up for Africa, and hopefully that would let me maintain a consistent energy level and focus for each of the three distinct experiences. But I’m a little concerned that having this perspective has let me fall into an attitude of going through the motions here, being less than purposeful. Seeing this segment as the relatively “easy” part made me expect that everything would just sort of fall into place.

In the day to day parts of life it did – I easily moved into an apartment Jared had scouted, I figured out how to get to work and how to operate in the office, I made some friends who I have a good time with. But I think when I’ve faced difficulty here – feeling lost or overwhelmed in my tasks or research at work, feeling lonely for home or distant from new friends, struggling to make space in my life for ‘extra’ interesting things outside of work, the gym, and social stuff; I’ve been less resilient. In China I got used to being alone a lot of the time; even when there were other people around I could spend time with, I didn’t feel a real urgency to always spend time with them, or worry about missing out on something. Though I really consider myself a social person and care immensely about the relationships that I value, there’s some strength in being contentedly alone. I think being back in a “normal” environment may have had the unanticipated effect of forgetting some of the things I learned personally about challenging myself and adapting to difficulty, being resilient. It’s tempting to impute, with hindsight, emotions or strengths that may have not really been there while I was in China, but I really do think that they were. This environment is not going to change; it’s up to me to figure out how to adapt again to stay charged and purposeful, to think of this as one part in a bigger picture of the year, and to, the cliché notwithstanding, make the most of it. 

In exciting international news, the UN Secretary-General, H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, made an official visit to the Court today to meet with the President and the Prosecutor about the relationship between the UN and the ICC. Though I didn’t get to glimpse more than the heightened security and his motorcade, the energy around the office about his visit was palpable—and yet, at the same time, it was just another day in the office. One of the massive organizational challenges to the Court, as it develops, is the need to coordinate with, and garner support from, other international institutions and states. The potential for a cooperative relationship with the UN is clear as evidenced by the UN referral of the Darfur case in March 2005. And yet, relying on other bodies for support and cooperation presents myriad obstacles to pursuing investigations and prosecutions in a timely fashion. It really interests me in an academic way being a student of international relations, and based on what I learned this summer about relationship management and negotiation, to think about designing strategies and partnerships to overcome these obstacles in the hopes of ending impunity for the most egregious crimes. I hope to be able to address some of this in my research by the time I’m done here.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Both Friday and today at work I got to sit in on long interdivisional meetings at the court, and even just being a fly on the wall as a minute-taker, it was really interesting to hear about the issues discussed, the challenges raised, and the dynamics of the institution. This is the kind of stuff I was eager to get access to just by being here, in addition to tasks and research as part of the intern/consultant role Insight has arranged for the Fellowship. On the task side, things have been on the verge of manic around the office lately trying to get things done; it has been challenging, and I’m happier being included in the operations, learning a lot about what’s going on, and having plenty to do rather than the alternative of a slower pace. The downside is it has meant neglecting my independent research project for the Prosecutor which I will need to refocus on in the next few weeks.

This weekend on Friday night I went to a going-away party for a friend at the acclaimed oldest bar in Den Haag and then stopped by the place that has become our usual venue to dance. I spent Saturday and Sunday generally just catching up on things, doing errands, etc. I finally made it to church, which I had been till then unsuccessful at doing. I found an Episcopal church with English services out towards the beach, and went to an evening mass on Sunday. Being there made me realize how much I miss it; I think going will add another good dimension to my sense of community here. 

Saturday, 10 February 2007

In the midst of the subzero and blizzard weather we had this week, it was very busy work-wise with projects, and Thursday night I finally succumbed to exhaustion and flu-like symptoms that have been going around the office. I had lately been thankful for the high quality of health I’ve had since being here in contrast to China; exercising 5 times a week has felt great and I’ve thought about gearing back up to train for a road race before I leave, and then this hit me! Knowing that I was too sick to be productive, I didn’t go to work yesterday. It was a good choice, as I slept almost the whole day, something that I can only rarely do, when I’m sick or extremely overtired.

Today was drizzly, but after resting for the morning I was getting antsy to get out and do something after feeling sick, and I decided to head out to the M.C. Escher Museum, by the American embassy. Escher’s drawings, perspective and proportions are fantastical and it was a good imagination-provoking escape. The museum is in Lange Voorhout Palace, a mansion owned by the Dutch Royal Family for 100 years.  In addition to having Escher’s collection of woodcuts and drawings, it housed exquisite chandeliers designed for the museum to hang in each room, and there was entertaining virtual reality and puzzle/perspective games at the end.

I’m hoping to travel for most of the remaining weekends, so I’m glad to have checked off another thing on the ‘Hague Highlights’ list and feel like I have seen most of what my placement base has to offer as far as museums and social life attractions are concerned. Though the unbelievably long and (to me) incomprehensible Dutch street names still elude me, I feel familiar with the general vicinity of The Hague; I once again feel like I’ve made a new home.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Still not feeling great, health-wise. Today was a restful day; I went to church, got out to walk along the beach in the short window of sunlight and no precipitation, and in the evening went to see ‘The Last King of Scotland’. Lately my images of Africa through books (Robert Guest’s The Shackled Continent and Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari), movies (this evening’s and Blood Diamond), and material at work haven’t been the best ones to make me feel at the peak of safety and confidence in preparation for going to that continent in a month and a half. Though they are not new images to me, I feel like all of a sudden my life is saturated with them. I did this purposefully to myself to some extent; I’ve been trying to read books throughout the year that are relevant to my current or upcoming placements. They are strong images of intractable cycles of violence, brutality, corruption, and economic despair. I know that thankfully Uganda today is not Idi Amin’s Uganda of the 1970s, but I’m still having a hard time figuring out how to prepare myself for the reality of being there and confronting these issues, which are arresting even from a continent away, on a day to day basis.

And, at the same time, the reasons that I’m apprehensive about going are the same reasons that I feel compelled to go; violent conflict persists amidst significant efforts at international diplomacy, peacekeeping, and justice; conditions of poverty unknown to most Americans are a fact of life in spite of decades of aid and charity programs; UNHCR statistics say that there were over 3 million refugees or displaced persons in East and Central Africa/Great Lakes region in 2006, many of whom are in IDP camps that are running out of humanitarian assistance or are in too volatile and insecure a situation for the UN workers to stay. We have the tools to go to the moon, to cure diseases, to invent everything to simplify our lives, and yet we can’t solve these overwhelming social, political, and economic problems that mean preventable death to millions of people each year. If I want to pursue a career in international development, the crucial first step is experiencing what life is actually like behind the UN and NGO reports and statistics, testing if I have what it takes to contribute in a meaningful way to solutions and reconcile myself to the misgivings I have about external development assistance and the practical challenges and effective solutions of economic development. I’m anxious that I won’t be prepared, that I’ll get discouraged by how huge these problems are, AND, I know I have to do it. I’m going to learn, I’m going to stretch my comfort boundaries, I’m going to try to gain understanding. The first step in bolstering my confidence in anticipation of going there is to solidify my work plans and goals for those three months; a task for the next two weeks.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

This morning in a public Appeals Chamber Judgment I got to see a defendant at the Court for the first time. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Commander-in-Chief of the UPC, accused of enlisting, conscripting, and using children under the age of 15 in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) appeared for a judgment on an appeal he had filed to get interim release. I had seen him in the video of his confirmation hearing, but actually being there in the viewing gallery was a different experience, and actually seeing a defendant in person made the work of the court seem more real, more tangible. While I’m deep into reports on the atrocities committed by the individuals the court investigates and prosecutes, it is hard to picture them as ‘normal’ people you could be (virtually) sitting in the same room as, albeit separated by panes of thick glass and several security guards. I am endlessly curious about what the accused thinks about these justice proceedings, how he views the things he is accused of doing.

I have had interesting conversations lately with lawyers and interns at the Court about the legal jobs that they would find personally challenging, even impossible. This came about while I was talking to people about how personally difficult I would find it to be a defense counsel at the ICC, knowing the gravity and extent of the defendant’s accused crimes, and the level of scrutiny that suspects have been under by the time they get to the ICC. I know that a defense counsel’s job is not to get a client off, but rather, to advise a client based on his interests and the protection of his rights, so the second factor shouldn’t really influence my feelings. Nevertheless, I still feel like my emotional reaction when considering the acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity that the Court prosecutes would be inseparable from the job the defense faces. I fiercely believe in international justice and I know that an essential part of that is the accused’s right to a defense, to protection of his rights, and to the benefit of presumed innocence until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. I have a great deal of respect for the lawyers that can be unwavering in their faithfulness to that cause of justice, because it is only with them that this system can retain its credibility and its sound pursuit of an end to impunity for the world’s worst crimes. I’m not sure I could do it though. For some of the people I talked to, it was being a family lawyer, having to make decisions about custody and family separation; for some, it was just being a corporate lawyer. One more reason that it’s great there are so many different people in the world.