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The Hague, January 1-30, 2007

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

I spiraled into a minor anxiety attack at work today based on a combination of things, which are a bit clearer now after distilling my feelings at the gym tonight. I’m trying to find my way through a research project and my current lack of focus is caused by a distracting amount of material (all very interesting) that I could drown in. It’s easy to get lost in all of the things I don’t know, and then scramble to absorb information in all directions. I’m still trying to find my place in the court, surrounded by extremely educated people who are mostly all older than me, some significantly so, and who often assume I have a law degree. Feelings of being under-qualified or questioning myself can make me feel very insecure, I’m realizing. On top of this being a challenging environment, less than a month ago I was in China, where I was a city celebrity because I was foreign, blonde, American, and an English teacher (only the latter of which I have any personal responsibility for, clearly). I didn’t even need any outstanding qualifications and I was immediately accepted, even celebrated.

But, stepping back and trying to see the forest through the trees in this experience helps me to remember that I am here to learn a lot, and hopefully contribute something. Just being in the Court gives me access to great resources, a whole new range of antennae to practical matters of international relations and global politics. It has already been useful for me to experience what an international law work environment feels like, and challenge myself to think about whether that is a track I really want to pursue. One of the main advantages of this whole year is the ability to compare these three distinct experiences, all of which I’ve entertained in some sense as a future career.

With regards to the managing my anxiety issue, it’s a challenge for me to work on getting to a place of calm and clarity sooner. This is important to maintain a sense of perspective about my time here in order to get the most out of it.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

It has been a couple of long days. Patrick McWhinney (Insight Partners CEO) was here yesterday, which was great. It was comforting to see a familiar face who understands exactly why I’m here. It was validating to have him here to just converse about Fellowship issues. It was refreshing for me to talk about the Fellowship and not have to start explaining from ground zero its principles, as I’ve been doing to people since I left Boston this summer. It also helped me to get back into a big-perspective view of the year, as I talked with him about the continuum of placements, challenges, memorable moments, everything. It made me think about how fulfilling it will be to see Julia and Jared at the end of the year, to fill in some of the gaps between our correspondences to understand what this experience has been like for each of us.

Also, Patrick’s visit helped to clarify my responsibilities in the Court. We were able to have a meeting with some other people in the Office of the Prosecutor that generated some exciting ideas about things I can be doing here in addition to my independent research, and other people I can be involved with. It’s great that this occur early on in my time, and also once I had gotten a somewhat better sense of how operations work. The evening brought what I’m sure will be a lasting memory of the year, when after dinner on Denneweg (a nice street in The Hague) Patrick and I went to the Prosecutor’s house for conversation and a glass of wine. The access to this experience still amazes me. It was crazy for me to think about watching his and Patrick’s casual and very animated interaction, and simultaneously think about the responsibility the Prosecutor shoulders in his position, visible as it is to the entire international community, and charged with a mission that is hard to supercede in its criticality. Bringing to justice perpetrators of the worst crimes imaginable, and particularly being able to leverage the threat of prosecution in order to prevent and stop those crimes before and while they are happening. The ICC is still a very new institution, and its potential is so important for peace and justice worldwide.

After I returned from the evening, I spent awhile Skype-ing with Dan Green, last year’s first Insight Fellow, about things Fellowship related, my plans for Uganda where he spent his final placement, and his post-Fellowship experience, now continuing in the conflict-management track in Buenos Aires. When I think about all of the days I’ve had completely solo, with little if any outside communication, at times feeling little understanding from others about what I’m doing this year and why, it was over-stimulating in contrast to have had shared the day with Patrick and then to spend quite awhile talking to Dan. Good, though. It makes me realize that after being away from home and familiar people for four months now, it feels like a luxury to be easily understood and share a connection with others who are familiar with the purpose of my activities this year.

Today I was late leaving the house for work, and then almost didn’t make it inside the building when I arrived because of hurricane-strength gusts of 140 km/h from an extreme storm that hit the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany today. Forty people have died from storm-related accidents, it’s very serious. While I was trying to cross the street to get into the building, the wind and driving rain was blowing me back into the traffic and I had to hold onto a metal median to keep myself in one spot! The whole court was dismissed early because public transportation systems were stopping and there were fears of the power system going out. So far the weather has been anything but pleasant here.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Last night I met some friends from work at a bar in the Plein, a square in the center of The Hague, where there was an ex-pat/ICC/ICTY event. It ended up being only ok, and after a long week I didn’t stay out very late. Today I completed some errands, and then met a friend from work at the Mauritshuis, the famous museum in The Hague, home to Rembrandts, Vermeers (the particularly celebrated ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’) and many other great artists’ works. They were also having a great temporary exhibit on Rubens and Brueghel, and we spent a nice afternoon wandering around, even amidst the slow-moving crowd on a Sunday afternoon.

After an afternoon in the museum, we sat at a café attached to it, overlooking the water next to Binnenhof (Inner Court), which is now the home of the parliament. We had some coffee and dessert, watched the sunset, and talked about ourselves and our time here, goals for the future, our families and the rest of our lives.

It’s comforting to feel like I’m getting more settled here, making friends, getting a better handle on work, and that life in general is good. My plans for Africa remain a little uncomfortably ambiguous, but hopefully will get further defined in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

The end of the weekend brought some disappointment. I went out with two friends on Saturday night and had a great time, only to find when we left a venue at 3 am that my nice winter coat had been stolen. This was made worse by the fact that my keys (apartment, room, bike lock) were in the pocket. Trying to get back into the apartment at 4 in the morning, and being unable to get in touch with my roommates who I barely know, I was very fortunate to have the alternative of crashing at my friend’s house for the night. I woke up early and was able to deal with these problems at a more decent hour later in the morning, and luckily my roommates were very gracious about helping me out with the keys.

I was extremely frustrated about this experience for a full day, and my disappointment in having these things stolen makes me realize that I’ve made a substantial mental adjustment to life here; while in China I was used to anticipating things getting filthy or lost, and as a consequence had little attachment to the material possessions I had with me, this environment has easily let me slip back into a consciousness of caring a lot about some of my possessions. Part of that is normal and even necessary; I work in a nice office, I need to look nice to go to work. Having this coat stolen is not only disappointing and an inconvenience, but I had to go get a replacement on Sunday, because it’s too cold without a coat, and the other jackets I have aren’t appropriate to wear to work. This was the first time I realized how easy for me it is to unconsciously transition back to a familiar mindset. I’m torn between feeling like I should be less attached to material things, particularly after my experience in China getting used to that sort of attitude, and also feeling like my disappointment and frustration are a completely valid and normal reaction, which if I didn’t have them, would make me too blasé about the things I own and am responsible for.

One of the positive things that came out of this incident were the very considerate actions of two of my friends from the Court, who waited with me late into the night, and then offered me a place to stay. I was able to thank them by making dinner at my apartment last night and then going to see the movie Babel. My experiments in cooking are still at a novice stage, but it’s a lot easier to cook for more than just oneself, and we had a good time. I had wanted to see Babel for some time, and my excitement about finally finding a time to go prevented me from thinking through what I already knew about the movie, and the fact that much of it was subtitled…in this case, in Dutch. Since most of the movie is in Arabic, Sign Language/Japanese, and Spanish, coupled with the to-me-indecipherable subtitles, the dialogue proved challenging to keep up with, but the message of the movie was still clear, and we had a nice evening.

Now onto the rest of the week before this weekend’s trip to London!

Friday, 26 January 2007

The end of a long week continues to get longer as I’m now on a delayed plane to Gatwick. This week was busy in the office, with presentations, meetings, and some late nights. Yesterday, one of the office’s interns presented the status of the research she did while at the ICC for a month, followed by a discussion forum of interns and staff from various divisions. The forum motivated me to push my research in order to have a tangible “end product” by the time I leave, and it was exciting to feel that I’ve been here long enough to be able to participate in the discussion in a meaningful way.

This afternoon was exciting, as I got to see the court rooms for the first time at the public Status Conference for the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) for the trial of Charles Taylor. The SCSL uses the facilities of the ICC because it doesn’t have a permanent location, so even though it’s not an ICC case, it was amazing just to be there and see the court proceedings from the glass-protected viewing gallery. It gave me chills to think about the defendants who will be in these same chambers, the victims and witness statements that will be heard in this court, and the atrocities that will be prosecuted. The magnitude of the task before the court is tremendous. Being here at a time when the Court is still developing its own precedents and forging its future in the international arena is interesting.

I’m eager to arrive in London and have a change of pace for the weekend. I’m planning to stay at a friend’s apartment while she’s away in Tunisia, see some sights, and recuperate from a personally challenging week.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Yesterday morning I woke up and after indulging in Starbucks, which I continue to miss, traveled out to Borough Market, which I heard is quite a spectacle…and it was. It was packed with families and couples perusing specialty stalls of all different types of foods; I just wandered in the crowd, often not being able to even get close enough to the stalls to see what people were buying. Feeling anonymous in an environment where everyone else seemed to be really attached to people around them made me think about the people I miss, and the relationships that are strained by being away.

After finding my way out of the crowd, I walked along the Thames for about an hour, past Shakespeare’s Globe theater, the Tate Modern, went up to see the view from the OXO tower, and looked out on the river.

Strangely enough, I thought about how this scene wasn’t that different from walking along the Bund in Shanghai just over a month ago, and yet I’m on the opposite side of the world. While in Shanghai, I was in a different place emotionally, and from the perspective of my Fellowship work and my placement. All too appropriate for my train of thought at the time, as I kept walking I happened upon this bench:

With the plaque: ‘Everyone needs a place to think’. It was a serendipitous moment, the perfect anonymous invitation at the right time. Still by myself, I felt a little less alone sitting there.

I then proceeded further down the Thames, saw the massive crowds ‘queuing’ for a trip up the London Eye, and the iconic Big Ben.

After stopping for lunch at a quick café (London prices are indeed as horrendously steep as everyone had warned me!), I went to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum, which was more fascinating than I had anticipated. The Cabinet room, map rooms, telephone rooms, everything used as the base of command for Churchill’s command of the war has been almost fully preserved since the day everyone emerged from the underground base in August 1945. There was such a living sense of history. The Churchill Museum was overwhelming in its detailed overview of the figure that seemed to be larger than life in many ways, but was also very well done. Exhausted from a long day, I took the tube back, relaxed, and then headed out to a recommended tapas bar in Soho.

Today I woke up and after finding some breakfast went to the British Museum to see the highlights of the Rosetta Stone and the controversially held Parthenon sculptures.

After wandering more in that neighborhood, I went back to relax before seeing an early showing of the movie Blood Diamond, which I wanted to see based on personal interest and also its relevancy to my current research at the ICC. It was intense and compelling; reaffirming to me the urgent need to work in a field that advocates for conflict resolution, international peace, and justice; and clearly emphasizing the way that economic conditions underlie all of these things. It is a movie that I will reflect on for awhile as I continue to work here, and as I prepare to go to Africa in a few months.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

The end of my time in London was great; I had planned to take a day off from work on Monday, which made it a much less crowded experience to go to the Tate modern, which is temporarily having a ‘Slides’ exhibit that features a couple multi-story metal enclosed slides with sharp curves and steep descents – you can get going up to 30 km/h! Apparently people wait hours to go, but Monday morning I could get a ticket and go straight up. It was a blast!

After perusing some of the rest of the Tate, I proceeded to the Imperial War Museum, where I found they were having a special ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ segment with a documentary – another interesting and time appropriate event with my current work. The rest of the afternoon I went to a few more places I wanted to see before I left, packed up my stuff, and got to the train station. It was a fiasco with the trains stopped, then delayed, and I sprinted through the airport, begged to get through security and barely made my flight after running as fast as I could through the terminal.

Yesterday at the court there was a public confirmation hearing in the DRC case against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) political and military movement. The UPC is accused of massacring hundreds of civilians between 2002 and 2003. This was monumental for the first case of the court and the result of busy weeks around here. I watched it today on video, and there is a certain added fulfillment to see the activity in the hearing after observing all of the work that goes into preparation in the Prosecutor’s office.