My Trip to Den Haag & Visiting the ICC

Last week I was lucky enough to travel to The Hauge to visit a friend. While I was there I was extremely insistent that we would go and visit the International Criminal Court as it’s based there. I had researched online beforehand and learnt that you can actually go and sit in on trials, so I was extremely hopeful that this would be possible.

When we got there, the court was on a break so we decided to go on an audio tour and learn a little bit more about what the International Criminal Court actually does. The aim of the ICC is to give victims of mass crimes, who live in countries with very weak or no legal systems a course to justice. This sparked my interest as a huge focus in class is the idea of governance gaps and the difficulties of gaining justice for victims of weaker states. The ICC is based on a treaty known as the Rome Statute, which has been ratified by many states around the world. The treaty came into effect in July 2002, therefore creating the ICC. It was interesting to learn that although the ICC cooperates with the United Nations, it still remains independent of it. Unlike the human rights violations we have been studying, which can only be committed by states, the ICC tries individuals for crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Something I found both interesting but also frustrating is that as the ICC was established in 2002, they cannot persecute retrospectively and therefore the accused cannot be tried for crimes committed before then. Something I have been learning throughout this module is that human rights-based law can be quite disheartening, as justice can be incredibly difficult to achieve. However, this is one of the reasons I’m finding human rights law so very interesting.

After the audio tour, it was time to go sit in on the gallery and watch the trial. It was amazing that they allow members of the public to do this, especially as UK courts are so incredibly private. The person who was on trial that day was Dominic Ongwen, a former senior rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This may be familiar to some, as Dominic Ongwen would have served the infamous viral internet figure, Joseph Kony.

Watching the trial was so interesting, although not a lot really happened in the two hours I was watching for, just to get an idea of how a court of this nature operates was so enlightening. All of the patrons of the court spoke English, however as witnesses spoke other languages, we had to wear headphones and listen to a live translation that was happening in a separate gallery to us. On the day that I was watching the trial, it was the prosecution presenting the case. The questions asked by barristers were so incredibly in depth, you can really see why trials as serious as this can take such a long time.

Although I’m aware this post has next to nothing to do with the business side of my module, I couldn’t resist writing a post on my experience. It’s not every day you get to sit in on a real human rights trial. Despite this, I can still draw comparisons to the aspects of international law that we have been learning about in class. I would love to go back someday and sit on future trials, it was an amazing experience which I won’t forget.

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