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The Hague-May-June, 2007

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19 May 2007:

In an effort to explore more of the Netherlands, I took a quick day trip to the nearby town of Delft. Only a ten-minute tram ride away, Delft had been recommended to me as a quaint little town, renowned for its Saturday market and its quintessentially Dutch pottery (appropriately referred to as “Delftware”).  Since some of my fondest memories from the previous two placements have been of visits to local, outdoor markets (which are conspicuously absent in The Hague, at least outside normal working hours), I was excited to spend the afternoon finding out what this one had in store.

Delft is a small town, but very touristy. The number of people outside on this particular Saturday was quite high, as musicians and street performers drew crowds on almost every corner of the city centre.  The streets that weren’t overtaken by Delft’s extensive Saturday market (nearly all of them) instead hosted outdoor seating for cafés and restaurants. One thing that was particularly noticeable about Delft (probably because of the Saturday market) was that it felt really alive. People were outside talking and laughing, shopping or selling, cooking or eating. It was really nice to spend the day outside, and to explore outside The Hague a bit.

Delftshoe


22 May 2007:

The Prosecutor announced the opening of an investigation in the Central African Republic (CAR) today. I’m not surprised at this announcement, because word of a CAR investigation has been running through the Court for some time now. The OTP has also yet to name any suspects, so at this point the announcement only indicates something very broad—that of a general investigation into the situation there, and the gathering of evidence regarding certain categories of crimes.

Though I find the announcement itself unsurprising, the investigation does strike me for a few reasons.  Like the three other “situations” (Uganda, the Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo), this one brings the Court to investigate crimes in an African nation, which does little to contradict critics’ charges of the “African bias” in the ICC’s choice of cases. True, opening a case in CAR does seem likely to strengthen existing perceptions of the ICC as an “African Court,” and in that sense perhaps the Court would have done better to try to expand its cases beyond the borders of the African continent.

However, the CAR investigation does also present the OTP with a number of opportunities for growth. This situation will be the first in which the investigation will focus on allegations of sexual crimes.  Suspects have yet to be named, but the number of reported cases of sexual abuse is outstanding, and is likely indicative of many unreported cases, as well. One of the most difficult (and probably one of the least focused-on) crimes to prove, crimes of sexual abuse are also some of the most horrific. The opportunity to focus on such crimes in this situation, though it does carry with it some risks, is one that I think the Court cannot overlook.

25 May 2007:

One aspect unique to this placement in The Hague is that life here is distinctly familiar. Expatriates here, myself included, seem to delight in endlessly listing the difficulties of living in Holland—the strange cultural peculiarities, the inefficiencies in public service, the inhospitable weather. Yet living in the Netherlands is by no means a stretch, or even (in the end) too difficult. That aspect of this placement, its location, is one unavoidably linked to the experience of working for the ICC.  But as updates from friends and colleagues in Cambodia cause me to continue to reflect upon my time there (and as conversations with Tori and Jared, other Fellows, in Uganda and Jordan, respectively, prompt me to think comparatively about our experiences), I find myself wondering how this placement fits into the Fellowship year I had envisaged.

Thematically, of course, my time at the Court falls perfectly in the trend of organizations and institutions with which I’ve worked. In what was most likely due to good luck and near-perfect timing, my placements have all, in some form or another, addressed issues of addressing conflict through the lens of international justice. In many ways, I feel as if this year has given me the momentum toward legal studies that I lacked upon graduation.  

But even so, I’d like to feel as if time here suits my Fellowship year in more ways than one.

Yesterday, as I was taking the evening to relax and catch up on some of the mundane tasks (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning house) that had been put off for too long, I came to think about how much I miss doing these exact same things, but at home. For example, it frustrated me to be shopping in a grocery store (rather than a market) without being able to find everything that I would normally expect to be there. As minor as is this complaint, it highlighted for me one particular challenge of this placement. What does it mean to be living in a place like home, away from home? Most of the expatriates I know here will compare details of life in Holland to those of their home, a comparison that most often highlights their preference for the latter. How do we deal with these differences, which are individually so minor but which in sum prevent this place from being somewhere that we’d prefer, from being home?

While it may work to push this placement further from the familiar, it may also be worthwhile to experience The Hague for its familiarities as well as for its distinctiveness.

31 May 2007:

My good friend Jasmine is leaving tomorrow, a fact which has made me realize that this is really the first time I’ve seen someone else leave. Though for the past year I’ve spent my time in extremely transitory social circles, amongst my closest groups of friends I was always the one leaving first, the one saying goodbye. It’s difficult to be on the other end of this departure.  My memories of both Cyprus and Cambodia are almost like portraits frozen in time, with the country and the people in it just as I left them. Though I know that many of the friends I’ve made along the way have moved as well, my mental image of them remains linked to the place in which our friendship began. My memory of each country is as strongly linked to those I met in it as is the reverse.

Before leaving Boston this summer, I told myself that I’d use this year to really form an international network. There was something both exciting and comforting in the idea of “having friends wherever you go;” knowing that I could travel almost anywhere and see a friendly face or have a couch on which to stay. It seems (very obviously) now that my initial idea of forming networks in Cyprus, Cambodia, Holland, and places in between must become more fluid.

2 June 2007:

As part of an effort to address my concerns over not traveling as much as I had originally hoped, I took a somewhat impromptu trip to Belgium. Though it did take some planning (i.e. the mental preparation necessary to wake up in time for an early train), the rest of the day was totally unplanned.

I decided, upon arriving at the train station, to head to Bruges rather than Brussels.  I remember being a bit disappointed with Brussels on my first visit there, and was excited to explore Flanders, to see the quaint town that some have called “the most romantic city in Belgium.”  It did not disappoint. Aided in large part by beautiful warm weather, my impression of Bruges echoed the city’s positive reviews. Despite the large groups of tourists who had similarly decided that today was the day to visit Bruges, I found the city beautiful, inviting, and easily navigable. I spend most of the day wandering along cobblestone streets, through parks, along canals, and in and out of chocolate or lace shops. It seemed that around every corner something was happening, whether an antique and crafts market or a daytime concert. But even amidst the energy and activity, I still found it possible to relax with a book and a cup of Belgian hot chocolate in a quiet square.  

Bruges


I spent most of the day exploring Bruges at a pace I deemed appropriate for the “love of life” attitude that the city seems to exude. With fatigue setting in (and the chocolates in my bag melting under the sun), I decided to call it a day. Yet for some reason, it seemed too early to end my trip when I pulled into Antwerp, where I was to change trains back to The Hague.  I hopped off the train and out of the station, and spent another few hours exploring Antwerp, as well.

The day was long (about 15 hours, from the time I left for the train to the time I arrived back home), and I had spent most of it on my feet. By the time I collapsed into bed, desperately ready to sleep, I was remembering most of my day’s activities as if I had dreamed them. But it felt good to have traveled, to have traveled alone, and to have done so on an impulse.

4 June 2007:

The trial of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, indicted for crimes committed in Sierra Leone by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), begins today. The trial is being “hosted” by the ICC for fear that holding it in Sierra Leone would cause too much political instability. Today’s proceedings will only include opening statements; the remainder of the trial will recommence after a hiatus of a few weeks.  

I was looking forward to watching the proceedings, since this would be my only chance to see a trial at the ICC before the end of my placement.  However, what I was finally able to watch sorely disappointed me, and, I’m afraid, gave credit to critics of the ICC and of international criminal law. Prior to this day, rumors had been circulating that Taylor had again replaced or dismissed his defense counsellor. But despite these rumors, I think everyone fully expected both Taylor and his full legal team to appear in court today.

He did not. Taylor boycotted the first day of his trial, and sent with his defense team a detailed note explaining that he had fired his lawyer. As I watched the proceedings, Taylor’s (former) lawyer, Karim Khan, argued with the presiding judge, Julia Subutinde, over the validity of his termination. Mr. Khan repeatedly threatened to walk out, prompting Judge Subutinde threatened to hold him in contempt of court. Finally, to end what had by then become a huge debacle, Mr. Khan gathered up his papers and walked out of the courtroom.

The trial continued after this whole scene had ended, with opening statements. Yet if Taylor’s aim was to “steal the show” with his absence and disrupt proceedings by announcing the termination of Mr. Khan only today, then he succeeded. Even before the court adjourned for the day, journalists and other media reporters streamed out of the courtroom, disappointed in Taylor’s absence. News headlines were screaming within minutes of Taylor’s absence; if he wasn’t something of an infamous celebrity before today, then he certainly is now.

An indicted war criminal is now more well-known for his courtroom antics than for the crimes of which he is accused. And, perhaps even more disturbing is the probability that the fiasco of today’s proceedings may have given ammunition to critics of the international legal system.

It was an interesting opportunity to watch a trial in action, in spite of some disappointing developments.


9 June 2007:

I am finally–finally–on a plane to Budapest this morning.  In very few instances have I felt so relieved to be sitting on a stuffy airplane in a small, uncomfortable seat.  And even though I am indeed en route to my destination, I’m still unsure whether the ordeal I underwent to get here was worth the Euros I saved in the process.

As many times as I’ve been to Europe previously, I had never been to Eastern Europe but have always wanted to go. I couldn’t let this placement pass without doing so. For this trip, I also decided to try out the “beauty” of European budget airlines, a phenomenon that has made flying cheaper than air travel in Europe, and one that made this trip to Budapest affordable on my Fellowship budget. Unfortunately, taking a budget flight to Hungary also meant flying out of Eindhoven, a small Dutch city near the German border, rather than the more conveniently located Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

Only after booking did I discover that it departed too early to arrive in Eindhoven the morning of my flight.  Even the earliest train/bus combination put me at Eindhoven airport hours too late, leaving me with a decision between spending the night at the train station or getting a bed and breakfast there the night before.  After seriously considering the former, I decided to allow my friends and family to sleep better by ultimately going with the latter. Yesterday afternoon I headed home from work and straight to the train station.  The train to Eindhoven was estimated to take approximately an hour.  The weather started to change as we left The Hague behind and, typical to Holland, it began to rain.  I watched the thunderstorm from my window. 

When we reached Tillburg, one stop away from my destination, an announcement was made in Dutch, and the train began to empty. After asking for a translation, I discovered that the train would go no further, and that I would have to find another way to get to Eindhoven.  I searched for another train on the schedule board, which was blinking all over with delayed and cancelled itineraries.  Suddenly, another announcement informed us that a train to Eindhoven would be leaving right away–now–from a track at the other end of the station.  I caught it just as the doors closed, and collapsed into my seat.  By the time I arrived in Eindhoven, the estimated hour long journey had taken me almost 4 hours.  It was 11pm and still raining.

The walk to my bed and breakfast was also longer than the estimated 15 minutes. When I arrived 45 minutes later, my raincoat had been soaked through and I was thoroughly drenched.  Even worse, the door to the bed and breakfast was closed and locked; the only entrance still open was that to the restaurant below.  I walked in, completely soaked, my huge backpack strapped on over my raincoat, and carrying printed directions that were now so wet they were pretty much useless.  I walked in, only to find myself in the middle of a wedding reception.  It was almost like a movie, in one of those scenes that establishes the character as a person for whom everyone feels sorry and is simultaneously grateful not to be. I walked in to the wedding reception at precisely the moment that the band finished its song, and I stood in the middle of the entryway dripping all over the floor as hundreds of eyes turned to look at me and a few mouths opened to laugh. 

I stood there looking as confused as possible so as to attract the services of someone who knew what was going on and who would hopefully let me into my room.  The strategy worked (though not without a few moments more of the stares and chuckles).  By 2am I was in my room, showered, changed, and ready for bed. Four hours later I was up again, walking back to the train station.  One hour after that I was on a bus to the airport.  And now, three hours after that, I am finally on a plane to Budapest.