Saturday, 25 August 2012

Week 3: IPSI Hague Symposium (Site seeing!)

IPSI classes in Action

Going into week 3, and thoroughly emotionally tested by some of the stories and accounts from the country case studies of the past week, we had the opportunity to visit several of the international justice 'mechanisms' in the Hague. As the IPSI president told us, they were all 'rolling out the red carpets' for us. The places we visited included:
  • The Special Court for Sierra Leone (the Charles Taylor portion was held in the Hague, the rest of the trials were conducted in Sierra Leone)
  • The Special Tribunal for Lebanon
  • The International Criminal Court

Some of IPSI's finest at the ICC
A Brazilian, a Lebanese-Australian, and a South African
(Photo Courtesy of Manelle Chawk)

These visits were in addition to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (which I mentioned here) and the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice and the International Court of Arbitration.

The Peace Palace in den Haag
Home of the International Court of Justice and
the International Court of Arbitration

Visiting the actual buildings, for me, created a tangible sense of 'justice in action'. Seeing all the technology, the formality, and the principles of law brought to life definitely stirs my legal nerdy soul. 

It's interesting to realize, however, that with each of the courts, there are serious challenges and criticisms. For example, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up internationally, through a UN security council resolution, without the express consent of the Lebanese government. It is also an incredibly narrow tribunal - focused on one instance: the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. It has not been able to arrest any of its suspects, and is proceeding with trial regardless - a trial in absentia. The prosecution's case is built entirely on circumstantial evidence. The political nature of the tribunal means that expectations are unreasonably high, there is already a lot of negative pressure, and it's unclear what impact the STL will have. The existence of the STL seems to raise more questions and concerns than it contributes to the pursuit of justice.

Yet, at the same time, the STL has already released a decision where it has come up with a tangible, precedent-setting definition of the International Crime of Terrorism. From a lawyer's perspective, that is quite a big deal. But from the general public's view, is that Justice? That is an open question, and not one I'm capable of answering, for now. 

I'll say this: the systems of Law and Justice that we seem to be setting up focus on principles (not policies) that 'we' (whoever that is) believe to be essential to a properly functioning society. This 'focus' has two aspects - defining what the principles are, and implementing those principles. That's it. The methods that we use to do this are as varied as the cultures on this planet. Is it the best way of doing things? I have no idea - principles rarely have any grounding in empirical fact. But I'm open to being wrong on that.

The western conception of Justice is a blind woman with a sword and balancing scales. It's interesting because, if you think about it, if she swings the sword, she could injure friends, foes, or no one at all; likewise, how would she ever know if the 'scales of justice' are actually balancing out? This is eerily accurate - for example, the Canadian Criminal Code is littered with crimes that apply to no one, mandatory sentences for certain crimes that hinder rehabilitation or that foster social inequalities, and lacks crimes for certain actions that are detrimental to society as a whole.

Shouldn't Justice be an Architect? Or maybe an Interior Designer? It's an idea worth exploring, since most of the 'Buildings of Justice' that we visited were, well, kind of ugly (with the exception of the Peace Palace). 

The whole IPSI Gang outside of the ICTY
(Photo Courtesy of Khaled)

In addition to the site visits, we also had some interesting in-class sessions as well. The first was on the role of memory in reconciliation. Outside of the issue of Justice, how do we actually help victims? How do we create an environment where it is possible to forgive and/or forget? Or just simply move forward? Often we talk about a lot of different things that come out of conflict, and resolving conflict often involves negotiations, compromise, and taking actions towards accountability, truth-seeking, and acknowledgement. But I wonder, how do you restore or repair human dignity?

This post was full of questions and queries. It highlights one thing - we live in a global world that is far from perfect. A world, however imperfect, that I happen to be a pretty big fan of. It's a world that needs a lot of work, and I'm willing and able to do my part. I just hope we make a bit more room for Justice to be aesthetically pleasing.


Interested in learning more about the IPSI Hague Symposium? Check it out here: The recap of Week 4 is coming up. I guarantee it will involve a lot more colourful language.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Week 2: IPSI Hague Symposium

Leiden by Night
[Note: I'm now back in Nairobi trying to adjust to a more 'normal' routine. These next few posts are a week-by-week recap of the highlights of the Symposium. For other insight from some of the other participants, please check out the IPSI blog and look at the pictures taken by Keith Lane - the pictures prove that while most of the participants were quite good looking, I am not very photogenic.]

Week 2 of the Symposium focused on specific countries as case studies in Transitional Justice (or lack thereof) - Argentina, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

Juan Mendez, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, gave his personal insights into the historical human rights issues that occurred in Argentina. He was involved as a lawyer who represented 'freedom fighters', and was himself imprisoned and tortured as a result of his work. The situation in Argentina is a real lesson in the struggles for democracy and responsible governance, as well as some of the evils that state officials can perpetuate for the sake of ideology. The history of the conflict in Argentina reads like a movie script, except that some of the violence and evil is unimaginable. A defining feature of this conflict was the use of forced disappearances, which not only included throwing people (alive) off of helicopters and into the sea, but also saw babies taken from their captive mothers to be raised by military families. But the conflict itself went much deeper than this, and after Mr. Mendez' presentation, I can understand why the slogan nunca mas exists. Argentina, now, has changed a lot, but this recent history should not be forgotten.

Charles Villa-Vicencio, who was the National Research Director for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, gave some personal insights into the struggles, challenges, and successes of the transition out of Apartheid in South Africa. The South African conflict was steeped in racism at a level that shocked the consciousness of the entire world. But, it was also a peculiar and unique situation - rarely in global history have the world's nations agreed on such a large scale about the evil that was apartheid, and rarely has such a gifted leader - Nelson Mandela - managed to ascend to power and (a) retain his morality/ethics, and (b) retain his life. The transition (which is still ongoing) of South Africa out of the oppressive apartheid regime involved a collective effort of a huge number of people, many compromises, and a lot of work. Chief among this was the creation and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa. None of this came easily, and none of it without sacrifice. One of the main contentions about the South African TRC was its provision of Amnesty for perpetrators. This had two effects: it allowed for perpetrators to tell their side of the story, and allowed for a more full version of the truth. It also meant that they went unpunished. Despite the gains made through the national reconciliation measures, South Africa is now faced with similar racial segregation, this time through issues of poverty and social class, rather than an ideology of racism. That is an altogether different hurdle to get over. But Mr. Villa-Vicencio's presentation left us all feeling a lot of hope and connectedness (ubuntu) with the situation in South Africa.

Finally, we were addressed by two men with lengthy credentials: Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein (Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in both Bosnia and Herzegovnia and Liberia, as well as the Coordinator for UN operations in Liberia) and Bill Stuebner (Former Special Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Former Chief of Staff and Senior Deputy for Human Rights in the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina). They gave us some background information and insight into the peacekeeping missions during the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the former Yugoslavia, and Ambassador Klein also shared his experiences in Liberia. Both of these men, and the presentations they gave, were altogether different than the previous discussions on Argentina and South Africa. Their perspectives were as 'interventionists' - outsiders who entered into conflicted states, and attempted to end the conflict. Their stories were just as dark as some of the other stories, but their methods and insights were much more...militaristically practical. While the other two presenters discussed the societal impacts, the ideologies, and the long term impacts of transitions, these two gentlemen focused on something much more immediate - peace as the cessation of violence. Their jobs were simple - stop the fighting. And, to that effect, they were successful. However, the current picture of the Balkans is not good, and Mr. Stuebner describes the area as being on top of a 'sleeping dragon' that, when it wakes up, wants blood. He thinks that it is going to wake up soon.

As part of our experience learning about the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan conflict, we also paid a visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. We were introduced to the inner workings of the Tribunal, and discussed some of the different aspects of how it was set up, how it functions, and what it is doing now, as it winds up its mandate. It has prosecuted 161 indicted criminals who were responsible for the ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. I suppose the major question is, then, if you've managed to prosecute 'those most responsible', and there is still a likelihood of more violence, what has actually been accomplished? The answer, I think, is first, accountability, and second, that Justice is necessary, but not sufficient, for peace. (Although, some people might even argue that it's not even necessary for peace).

Outside of the symposium, week 2 was full of bike rides, picnics, beaches, and general merrymaking. I also managed to sign up for creating a 'Transitional Framework' for IPSI posterity, but that will wait until week 4.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Week 1: IPSI Hague Symposium

Street Sculptures in Scheveningen

Greetings again from den Haag, in the Netherlands. I'm now a week into the IPSI Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice. I'm also a week into being in Europe, which has been pretty nice. Here are a few highlights:

On the grounds in front of Clingendael
1. Clingendael - The symposium is held at a beautiful old building, which houses the Netherlands Institution for International Relations.

The building itself has a curious history. I can't remember the full details behind it, but the building was taken over by Nazis during the second world war, and occupied by such notables as Heinrich Himmler. One of the 'dignitary's' wives (was it Himmler's?) was (a) dog-crazy, and (b) completely ignorant of what was happening at Clingendael at the time. She made individual gravestones for each individual dog that she had, and buried them under a beautiful tree in the grounds behind the building.

Blind, Deaf, Genius Togo (the dog) , buried behind Clingendael
It's actually fairly strange, perhaps ironic, that these gravestones exist, given that Clingendael, at that time, was basically a interrogation and torture site. It's on this foundation that the Clingendael institute exists, as a learning institution dedicated to peace. That's a nice change.

It is located on a beautiful parks, and there are cows, sheep, and donkeys grazing around the fields. Ducks and swans swim in the ponds, and there is a small cafe that sells fantastic apple pie. An ideal learning centre.

 2. The Hague - The Hague (den Haag in Dutch) is truly the city of international justice. It houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent International Court of Arbitration, the International Criminal Court, and the Special Tribunals for Sierra Leone, Lebanon, and Yugoslavia. For someone in my position, it's the centre of all things international justice. It's also a sleepy town, full of cute buildings, busy people riding bicycles all over the place, and a beautiful beach (in Scheveningen). I already know that I want to come back here.

3. The Conference - Of course, the reason I'm here is the conference, and it is not disappointing. I've had the pleasure of being lecture by academics, Lt. Generals at the UN, and, Special Representatives to the UN. Very high level discussions, and very insightful issues. This week was focused on the theoretical and conceptual backgrounds for transitioning states from conflict to peace and stability. In particular, we focused on Justice, Development, Security, and Governance issues - the four main pillars of a stable democracy.

Classes run from 8-5, monday to friday, with daily readings. If that is not full-on enough, I've volunteered to be part of a 'working group' on developing a 'Transitional Framework' - a blueprint for guiding states from conflict to peace and stability. A lofty goal - it's one thing that the organizers of the conference are very excited about, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

Otherwise, the group of participants have been wonderful. Coming from diverse backgrounds, it's created a very electric learning environment. I'm caught up in it, and the questions and discussions have been just as informative as the presentations themselves. I'm looking forward to how things are going to progress in the coming weeks!

In other news, I got an Op-Ed published in le Quotidien, a Senegalese newspaper! It was translated into French by an intern (Thanks Nastasia!), and is an update on the current situation on Kenya and the ICC. Check it out here.

That's all for now, check in next week!

The King and Queen of Scheveningen, slightly unimpressed