June 2008-Holly Dranginis-The Hague, Netherlands

June 2008-Holly Dranginis-The Hague, Netherlands

New Ground

18 June 2008


In many ways, my first few days at the International Criminal Court (ICC) could feel like an ordinary transition—I am moving from one international legal institution to another, remaining in the same tree-lined, bicycle-strewn Western European city, stretching my work commute to just five extra minutes by tram. I recently finished a six-month internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and have now begun my Insight Summer Fellowship at the ICC. To the typical Hague-dwelling expat observer, this is a predictable course of action—my colleagues at the ICTY nodded approvingly when I told them I’d begin at the ICC at the end of my internship, unfazed at the “tribunal-hopping” that has become common in the international criminal legal circle. We joke that the same twenty-five attorneys are trying all the most infamous alleged-war criminals and genocidaires of the world. In reality, it is a privilege to be part of the sparsely-populated community that is piloting standards of international accountability. This is the second coming of a revolution whose original launch was known as the Nuremburg Trials, and for me, there is nothing ordinary about having the opportunity to take part.

I arrived in The Hague after years of fieldwork in Latin America with domestic nonprofit and governmental initiatives in the field of transitional justice—roughly defined as the academic analysis and practical application of post-war peacebuilding and accountability mechanisms. Tenets of the Insight Fellowship include stretching boundaries and creating linkages across diverse experience and concepts, and this placement will challenge me to do just that. Here, I will be able to grow my experience across new disciplines and draw comparative conclusions. By participating in legal work at top levels of power, I am complementing a largely domestic anthropological and grassroots-centric resume of experience with a truly international and importantly, legal, institution. The crossover is often tough to find—grassroots activism as opposed to state legal efforts often focuses on victims, yet lacks the teeth that legal organizations have. Progress was slow at those levels, frustrated by the ongoing marginalization of victims of war (who also carried two additional strikes against them, i.e., acutely impoverished and indigenous). The ICTY and ICC have not escaped criticism of their own problems with efficiency, but the expertise, global experience, and funding with which these institutions pulse give a sense of positive trajectory that contrasts with the seemingly losing battles fought at grassroots levels in the global south.


Admittedly, “most powerful” may be an inaccurate characterization of my current context —considering the US’s staunch refusal to assume membership to the ICC and sanctioning of smaller countries to follow suit, perhaps we cannot yet say that the ICC wields the biggest stick among international actors. But, it is the first, if currently largely symbolic, representation of an institution with clout enough to strip state leaders of their authority in the event that they are abusing that privilege.


Already it has become clear that the ICC is an active context in which I can exercise my newly-obtained Insight lens. From my small office to the courtroom, the potential application of negotiation and conflict resolution tactics is everywhere. What’s more is how relevant the ICC is to my ultimate career aspirations; so by analyzing situations here using Insight tenets as I move through my days observing hearings and participating in meetings and interactions among colleagues, I am incorporating that practice into my daily ethos at an early stage of my involvement in international courts. I’m grateful that my use of these philosophies and tactics will arise again as a healthy habit while I move through my career in similar institutions.

Imagining Inclusion

20 June 2008


On Tuesday I met with our ICC-Insight Supervisor and Special Assistant to the Prosecutor, Ms. Rebecca Hamilton, to discuss my placement and more specifically, the topic of my research for The Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Oreno-Ocampo. I have crossed paths with both Rebecca and the Prosecutor before, and was thrilled to know that the Insight placement closely involves two such inspiring individuals. Rebecca spoke at Connecticut College when I was a graduating senior there, about her work as an activist fighting to end the genocide in Darfur. Her organization, the Genocide Intervention Network, is leading the charge in stirring up public awareness and vocal opposition to the atrocities committed and large-scale commercial and state support of the Khartoum government. We crossed paths again at the Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide in Montreal last fall, both having been selected as International Young Leaders to engage in workshops and discussions on the future of conflict resolution and prevention of grave human rights abuses for a week prior to the conference. This is also where I had the pleasure of hearing from the Prosecutor, when he spoke with urgency and eloquence about the impact of ICC arrest warrants in Western and Southern Sudan in the formal conference proceedings.


These connections were a welcome reminder that the world is small, and professional interactions, no matter how minor or seemingly removed, are often lasting in the sense that they contribute to ongoing professional relationships.


I was advised to approach the meeting with Rebecca with a few ideas of topics on which I’d like to focus for a long-term research project for the Prosecutor. Immediately I jotted down victims’ participation. There are two main aspects of my background that drove that topic to surface—1) most strongly, my work with genocide and conflict victims and the resulting awareness of how they are virtually excluded from primarily legal transitional justice processes; and 2) most recently, my time at the ICTY, during which I overheard and discussed details of recent groundbreaking ICC decisions regarding victims’ participation. I realized quickly that for me personally and for the field, this was a topic that was oozing with controversy and importance.


At the heart of the recent ICC decisions that stand to change the face of participation in international criminal proceedings, are the victims. Largely excluded when questions of accountability for crimes arise, victims were given a nod in the mid-nineties when South Africa created what it called a Commission of Truth. This paved a path for reorienting the focus in the aftermath of war from the perpetrators to the victims. Although South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was made famous by its amnesty policy, its legacy was in its inclusion of those who suffered. Public testimony by thousands of victims across the country put South Africa on the map as an innovator of peace-building, and this was exactly the concept that pulled me into this field—victims’ voices, their stories, and their opinions. It has never registered with me that victims should be anything but the central focus of transitional justice efforts. Unfortunately, victims’ participation has largely been reserved for story-telling, memorializing and reconciliatory forgiveness exercises.


Now, the ICC has gone a step further to say that victims’ participation in legal proceedings, an aspect of transitional justice that has been virtually exclusively focused on perpetrators, should also be prioritized.


As I mentioned, the new decisions are not without controversy and dissent. In fact, my first reactions of relief and support for increased victims’ participation were quickly muddied as I realized that not only some but the majority of my colleagues at the ICTY had reservations about the new provisions. My lack of objective legal training suddenly glaringly clear, I realized that victims’ rights to participate have the potential to encroach on the rights of the accused.


“Criminal defense mentality” is one of my favorite takeaways from the ICTY and one that is directly transferable to the ICC. My steep learning curve was never clearer than when it came to discussing defendants’ rights. The world of war crimes tribunals is dogged with the presumption of guilt when it should exemplify the opposite, and I admire greatly the judges and attorneys who fight tooth and nail to ensure that individuals indicted are afforded their deserved protections, humane treatment, and innocent-until-proven-guilty status.


Finally, the victims’ participation question is the perfect forum in which to consider negotiation tactics like those in Getting to Yes, Harvard Negotiation Project publications and Insight’s training courses. At the heart of the issue is the presumption that parties’ (let’s say in this case the parties are defense and victims, although there are many more we could consider) interests are inherently conflicting—that the more rights victims have, the more threatened those of the accused become. There are virtually countless considerations to be made in this potential trade-off, and very little precedent from which to draw; but I am determined to believe that the international criminal legal process, like all negotiations, ought not be a zero-sum game.


Preemption as Resolution

26 June 2008


One of the main projects I’ve inherited as a Fellow at the ICC is the Insight Peace Project (IPP). By building curriculum for schoolchildren in conflict and post-conflict zones on human rights, conflict resolution, and traditional reconciliation tactics, the project aims to preempt the repetition of atrocity.  According to genocide prevention expert Greg Stanton, societies that have experienced genocide before are far more likely to suffer from crime than ones that have never experienced it. This is linked to silence and denial of atrocity as well as the impunity that often surrounds powerful individuals who constructed the policy of genocide.


As I read through the articles, email correspondence and initial outlining proposals of the IPP’s pilot program planned for launch in Northern Uganda, I felt the relief and joy that comes with working on something inherently preventative. Education, as opposed to conflict intervention and post-war reconstruction that I have focused on until this project, is the silver-bullet of truly making the brand rallying cry against genocide, “Never Again,” a reality. It is crucial that the international community supports the extraction of hate-rhetoric and prejudice in all forms at the earliest stages of human development, i.e. in schools. By engaging with communities on the ground in regions affected by conflict (and therefore more likely to endure conflict in the future), Insight will use its philosophies and objectives to lay groundwork for peace, and work towards a goal the global community should hold in highest regard—the preclusion of armed conflict.


For me the IPP also begs the questions: when learning and applying tactics of conflict resolution, to what extent can we focus on prevention? Are there overlaps in methods of prevention and resolution? Should we prioritize one over another?


Today, I joined Insight Fellow Rebecca Brubaker, former Fellow Jared Liederman, and Insight Collaborative analyst Rachel Milner Gillers in a conference to brainstorm ideas and potential challenges to continue the progress of the IPP in Uganda. We talked in specific terms about what forms of involvement the project should take, to what extent we should focus on traditional local forms of conflict resolution tactics for curriculum and how much we may want to introduce Insight’s practices. Challenges will be ensuring value-added in a region saturated with nonprofit work, and keeping a strong dialogue with local actors as we establish potential programming. I’m looking forward to expanding and adapting our ideas as we gain more knowledge of the local context, and continuing the collaboration with Rachel, past and current fellows.


From The Hague to the Field

29 June 2008


I am have recently become involved with an organization that prioritizes quality care and education for orphans and vulnerable children in East Africa. The organization is called IBecome, and is quickly building innovations in the approach to orphan care and youth engagement in marginalized societies, with the potential to benefit development schemes and conflict prevention initiatives worldwide. I spent two weeks in early June on site visits to both Kenya and Tanzania where IBecome has launched its two pilot programs, and returned with a better understanding of a crucial factor in supporting conflict resolution that Insight has come to represent—the nexus between foreign actors and local communities.


As Roger Fisher and William Ury say in their bestseller, Getting to Yes, we engage in negotiation in every aspect of life. Sometimes they are clearly identified in board meetings and courts of law, and often they are veiled in everyday interactions like casual conversations and interpersonal decision-making. Running an NGO like IBecome is inundated with negotiation, circumstances which I observed and participated in throughout my time in East Africa. From administering after-school art activities to kids at the children’s homes, to meeting with local directors of the programs, the visiting staff were constantly using negotiation tactics to support the progress of shared goals. I look forward to honing my skills in the art of Insights’ conflict resolution practices to use in my work with this organization and others in bridging divisions in vulnerable societies and promoting progress for sustainable peace.


This week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture at the ICC given by an anthropologist and sociologist who has worked extensively with child soldiers in regions as varied as the DRC and Colombia. This is the kind of co-curricular activity that Insight Fellows have the great fortune of attending, given the rich international conflict-related academic community that is The Hague. The ICC has engaged international actors from across disciplines to participate in the ongoing dialogue on issues of peace, war, criminal activity, truth, reconciliation, and community reengagement in the aftermath of conflict. As Insight Fellows, we have the freedom to take advantage of all such opportunities to reflect on their relevance to Insight philosophy and application, and hear from non-legal voices in the field. The talk had clear ties to everything I am engaged with right now—most directly with the Insight Peace Project in Uganda and IBecome’s potential programs in conflict zones. During the Question and Answer session, a young woman from Northern Uganda asked how child soldier reintegration efforts could overcome such obstacles as stigmatization, abandoned communities, and deprivation of education. The speaker explained that as the possibility of peace hovers on the horizon for this region, the reconstruction of communities is occurring. It will take careful negotiation practice, a steady flow of information on everything from politics to trials in The Hague to land rights legislation, and relevant education programs. But as communities reunify, they will be ready and willing to support those children who are returned from years of conscription, incorporating youth back into their hope for the future.