On Friday, July 13, 2007, I visited the Hague with my classmates in the international human rights program in Amsterdam. We visited the Peace Palace, which houses the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice. Neither court was in session at the Peace Palace during our visit. We also visited the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is in another building.
(Photograph by Ami Orava) The Peace Palace was spectacular in terms of architecture. The building itself is actually owned by the Carnegie foundation. Before he died on board the Titanic, Andrew Carnegie had pledged $1.5 million dollars to help build the peace palace. It was built in a time of great hope for world peace and international cooperation. Unfortunately, one year after the opening of the Peace Palace in 1913, the First World War broke out.
We were unable to take pictures of the inside of the building. Rather than pulling them off the internet and giving you what little information I have, the Carnegie Foundation has a sort of guided tour of the building and its history at http://www.vredespaleis.nl/showpage.asp?pag_id=467
We were able to view a bit of a war crime trial at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The testimony at the trial itself was not that interesting (which is typical for court - it is certainly nothing like is depicted on television). What was interesting was the process. The prosecutor was American. Defense counsel was British. I think the judge was from South Africa. Anyway, all testimony and questioning was translated from English (for the questioning and dialogue with the judge, at least) into French (the other official language of the tribunal) and Bosnian-Serbian (for the benefit of the witness and defendant). Similarly, the testimony of the defendant was translated from Bosnian-Serbian to English and French. It is no wonder that some of the more complex trials of heads of state and government officials can take 3-4 years to complete (working 4 hours per day on each trial so that they can run two trials concurrently). It is a slow and lumbering process.
I've been trying to think of something profound to say about the experience. Because I want to work in international human rights, I keep feeling like I should be completely inspired by the Hague. However, I wasn't. What the Hague represents - a community of nations banding together to ensure peace and justice in the world - is completely inspiring. However, there simply is more work to be done to fulfill that possibility and make it a reality.