In the early hours of Sunday 10 December, 23 politics students travelled to the Dutch political capital, The Hague, locally known as Den Haag.
The Hague is the seat of a number of prominent international judicial bodies. As the centre of global justice, the visit enhanced our understanding of the Global Politics aspect of our course. Having completed our journey on the Eurostar, we arrived at the StayOkay hostel. The students then split to explore the city with tour guides – the majority on foot, while those less lucky faced the bitter rain and wind on bike.
On the Monday, we prepared for a visit to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Since 2002, 123 states have agreed to try international criminals in the Hague. I was particularly intrigued by Monday’s developments in the trial of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona. They were facing charges of war crimes, and crimes against humanity, in the Central African Republic, and we could see how their defence and witness testimonies were put forward. Later, we visited the facilities of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the first truly international tribunal. This ad-hoc court sought to reconcile the disputes in the Balkans and bring perpetrators to justice. During our talk, we were interested by the court’s investigation into the Srebrenica massacre, particularly the collation of evidence by the Prosecutor’s Office. In the evening, we visited the local Christmas Market, where we enjoyed festive food and beverages (particularly the XXL hot chocolates for 8 Euros).
On Tuesday, we visited the Peace Palace – the seat of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Court of Arbitration. While the ICC prosecutes individuals, here states can mutually agree to settle disputes of all kinds. We were offered an educational audio-tour, which explained the construction of the magnificent building, funded by Andrew Carnegie, and the development of international law during the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. This was followed by an informative talk in the Peace Palace, where we were able to ask questions about the strengths and possible failings of the ICJ.
In the afternoon, we travelled to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, where we discussed the ongoing pursuit of justice following the destructive conflict in the region. However, while scrutinising the institution, we learnt that Kosovo irreversibly ceded control of the Chambers, and therefore some sovereignty, to the European Union, of which Kosovo is not a member. This means that the EU can unilaterally extradite Kosovans, many of whom are former members of the Kosovan Liberation Army, which is not universally accepted in Kosovo. That evening, we visited Schilderswijk, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the Netherlands. We visited a school, orphanage, and youth centre, and had dinner in the community centre. This experience sought to expose us to the Dutch education system, socio-economic hardship, and multiculturalism in The Hague. I found the talk in the Youth Centre highly interesting, where they compared the Dutch provisions for trying to develop and support the area to what we have in the UK.
On our final day, students visited the temporary home of the Dutch Parliament. I was fascinated to contrast the UK House of Commons to the Dutch House of Representatives. Notably, the Netherlands has adopted a more proportional electoral; a less confrontational horse-shoe model; and a strong Senate to scrutinise legislation. The highlight of our trip was surely spectating the coalition negotiations, led by Prime Minister-elect, Geert Wilders. Our trip concluded with a scenic boat tour through the canals of The Hague.
Nevertheless, in a world increasingly inclined toward nationalism, can institutions such as the ICC justify their continued existence against persistent criticism surrounding matters of sovereignty, cost and ineffectiveness? Is the pursuit of international justice the best use of international aid funds, or should the international community instead provide economic aid to communities hoping to rebuild their livelihoods? International institutions are in their infancy, and whether they will stand the test of time is yet to be known.
Overall this trip was highly enlightening for our course and was a great experience overall!
Politics Trip to Parliament
Order! Order! A Level Parliament Trip
Read the report by 6.1 Politics A Level Student, Alexander Webb, on a recent trip to Parliament and Europe House.