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.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Mr.Joshua Lam !

    I am Jeongmin Choi from Republic of Korea.
    I am law school student at Pusan National Univ.
    And I am a member of law review society and writing an article about Park won-hwa who is a Space arbitrator of Permanent Court of Arbitration.

    PNU law school law review society(LawWave) publishes yearly magazine.
    You can refer to this website.(

    I am searching for some pictures of Permanent Court of Arbitration and found good one in your post.

    May I use this picture for our law review article?
    Of course I will disclose the source of this picture.

    I will wait for your reply.
    You can reply me by email. (

    Thank you.


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