The Hague: Reflections on a Study Trip to International Legal Institutions

The University of Vienna School of Law organized a three day trip to The Hague which enabled students to not only observe high-profile cases in progress but also provided students with an opportunity to interact with Judges presiding over the cases. Recognizing the fact that the study of law is not relegated only to theoretical principles in the classroom, Professors Gerhard Hafner and Manfred Nowak, both faculty members of Vienna’s LL.M. in International Legal Studies, provided students with invaluable insights throughout the duration of the trip. Having witnessed the interplay of legal principles within the context of real-world cases in progress, students left with a greater appreciation for international organizations and their role in shaping the future of international law.

The highlights of the trip included a visit with Mr. Hans Bevers, Legal Advisor and Acting Head of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mr. Bever’s comments about the challenges facing the court enabled students to better understand the strengths and limitations of the enforcement power of the Office of the Prosecutor. Judge Kourula of Finland, provided his personal insights about the ICC and its efficacy as an international organization that seeks to end impunity for the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against humanity.

The session at the Special Court for Sierra Leone enabled students to attend a unique hearing involving Charles Taylor’s case. As one of Africa’s most prominent warlords during the First Liberian Civil War in the early 1990’s, Charles Taylor has been accused of some of the most heinous crimes that disfigured the African continent. It was extremely interesting for students to witness not only the demeanor of the defendant but also the courtroom procedure and how the prosecutor handled the witness.

Other high-profile cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), such as the ‘Popovic’ and ‘Gotovina’ cases, provided students with an inside glimpse into the persecutions, inhumane acts and mass genocide that transpired in Srebrencia. Once again, it was interesting to witness the courtroom drama that unfolded and the reactions of the witnesses as well as the accused to the prosecutors’ line of questioning.

Finally, the visit to the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace was also extremely rewarding. Here, students had the distinct opportunity to hear Justice Rosalyn Higgins deliver the opinion of the case of Djibouti v. France. In addition, students met with Justice Simma in an intimate setting and were able to pose questions about the intricacies of the case and how the International Court of Justice handles the contentious issues that are within its jurisdiction.

Sal El Kasm (LL.M. class of 2007/08)