Den Haag (The Hague): First Night and First Day of my Trip to Holland

The purpose of my weekend trip to the Netherlands was a school trip to go to the Hague and visit the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international criminal tribunals. Then, because that only takes up one day, and you have to fly out of Amsterdam anyway, most of the students went back to Amsterdam for the rest of weekend.

Anyway, with that background…. Den Haag.

We had to leave for Den Haag on Thursday after classes. However, due to time differences between Atlanta and London (I was dealing with the application process for the judge that day), I decided to head to the airport early, skipping my last class of the day, so I could be all checked in by the time Atlanta “woke up” and could get all of my application stuff done there. Sure enough, with a lot of running around by Alexander while I frantically typed away at my laptop, I pulled it off and got my application in just in time to run down to our gate and catch our flight out to Amsterdam.

From Amsterdam we had to catch a train to the Hague. One of the frequent frustrations we’ve had in Europe is that a lot of the time their train ticket machines only take bank cards/credit cards that have the chip in them. I have four credit cards and a check card over here and none of them have a chip (and I’m not entirely sure how common if at all the chips are in the U.S.). Anyway, this means that frequently we try to buy tickets from the machine, ultimately realize we can’t because the machine rejects all of cards, and then we have to go buy a ticket from a ticket window which always costs a little more. The machines don’t specify they require a chip, so we never know. Ahh!

Anyway, ultimately we got our tickets and boarded what later turned out to be the wrong train. It still went to the Hague, just the wrong end, so we had to catch another train back the other way, and the train didn’t leave for awhile. By the time we made it to the hostel, people who had been on the same flight were like “…what happened to you guys?” because they had already been there for awhile.

From the correct train station, we just had to walk a couple of blocks over to our hostel. There was a lot of construction which made it a little confusing and then we spotted the sign for the hostel on the other side of this canal we were facing. And then we also realized that the canal and surrounding street were all taped off with police tape and there were several police vehicles there and police standing around. It was clear whatever had happened was completely over, but we weren’t sure what it was. My initial thought was: “was someone killed at the hostel?” because it was literally right behind the hostel where all this stuff was going down. We walked around to the other entrance and went inside and we found out there had been a shooting on a house boat on the canal (completely unrelated to the hostel). And I later found out (from a taxi driver) that it was actually a murder, not just a shooting. Great way to start off your first hostel experience, eh?

We dropped off our luggage in our rooms so we could go meet some of the gang to go out to a late dinner. When I initially walked in my room it reminded me of a youth camp cabin. Not a big deal, I can handle camp accommodations. However, camp accommodations are definitely better when you are relying on your own sleeping bag and not somebody else’s urine stained sheets. *shudder* However, I wasn’t aware how bad the sheets were at that time.

We all walked down to a “nearby” Indonesian restaurant which was actually quite far, but ultimately worth the walk because it was delicious! I had never had Indonesian food before, but we had a group of about 10 or so, so we got a giant spread of all different kinds of dishes. And the best part was that it was on Pepperdine, so we didn’t have to pay (I think it would have been over 20 euros each if we were paying).

After dinner, we walked back to the hostel to go to bed. I’ve already ranted about my night at the hostel, so although I’d like to rehash all of that again, I am going to save myself, and you, and just leave it at “I went to bed.”

The morning of the next day (Friday) was spent touring a few International Claims tribunals. Basically, these are courts set up specifically to resolve claims arising out of incidents that happened between two or more countries. For example, the first one we went to was the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, which was set up in 1981 to resolve claims arising out of incident where a bunch of Americans were held hostage, and in response the United States froze the assets of Iranians. 27 years later… they are still resolving claims! Whoah.

Leaving the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal

Leaving the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal

Alexander and I on the bus between courts

Alexander and I on the bus between courts

At our second court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, we actually got to sit in on part of a case. Three top military officials were being tried for their part in masterminding a lot of the war crimes like ethnic cleansing that were committed between the various areas that were formerly known as Yugoslavia (Sarajevo, Kosovo, etc.). There was a huge team of lawyers on one side (we’re talking 10-15 people) for the 3 men accused, and a huge team of people on the prosecution side as well. The part we saw involved one of the defense attorneys asking a bunch of questions and basically reading a bunch of passages without any questions. It didn’t make sense at all where he was going with any of his questions, and it didn’t make sense at all who this witness was and why she was able to answer any of these questions. Just as I was getting pretty annoyed by that, one of the judges interrupted and started asking the witness what she was doing there and what gave her the authority/personal knowledge to be able to answer the questions. She couldn’t give a specific answer to any of the judge’s questions, and finally she just asked if she could have a break for a little bit and the court adjourned. Just for my non-law school readers out there, in the United States you could never do that. Before a witness begins asking questions you have to make it clear why the witness is there and why they have the knowledge they claim to have. Anyway, that was pretty interesting to a procedure-nerd like myself.

(From what I could gather, apparently the defense was trying to make the case that a bunch of soldiers went AWOL, and so the military leaders had no idea where they were, and no control over what they were doing, so they should not be held responsible for any crimes committed by these soldiers when they were AWOL. Apparently the witness worked somewhere where a lot of paperwork came in regarding soldiers who went absent, and they were trying to use her to prove that a bunch of soldiers went absent around the time these ethnic cleansings were taking place… riiiight. )

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

After the case, I had to catch a taxi back to the hostel and begin sitting by the internet waiting for any word from the judge (for a possible interview). Since the best way to reach me is via email, and I don’t have the convenience of email access on a phone here in Europe, I essentially had to sit by the computer all afternoon waiting to hear anything. But it was on the cab ride back to the hostel that I learned it was a murder behind our hostel and not just a shooting, and while I sat on the computer I could see the investigators out the window investigating the scene. They had set up a big white tent to block people on the street from seeing what they were doing, but they hadn’t done anything to block the view from the hostel.


Alexander saw this while he was out with the group, and took a picture for me 🙂

Around 5 or 6pm, the rest of the group arrived back from their afternoon at a few more courts, and we all left the hostel to catch a train back to Amsterdam.

Sadly, my camera wasn’t working the first night we were in Den Haag, and then the second day I was preoccupied on the computer so I didn’t get many pictures from that part of the trip, but it was a very pretty city. More on Amsterdam to come in the next post!