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 observe high-profile cases in progress. Students were provided with an unique opportunity to interact with Judges presiding over the cases.  Grounded on the undisputable fact that the study of law is not restricted to theory, Professor Gerhard Hafner provided students with valuable inputs throughout the duration of the trip. Students were able to combine both practical and theoretical aspects derived from the study of international law by witnessing the interplay of legal principles of law in the context of factual cases currently in progress.

The highlights of the trip included, initially, a visit to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which the students attended a meeting and lecture regarding the relevance of demilitarization, non-proliferation of chemical weapons and the importance of international cooperation allied to the national implementation of measures against the proliferation of chemical weaponry. They were enabled to better understand the threat of chemical weaponry still present in the world and by which means international organizations such as the OPCW engage in the campaign for the total disappearance and destruction of such deadly weapons.

A visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) enabled students to attend hearings of the Prlic and Perisic cases. Jadranko Prlic was the highest political official in the Croatian wartime entity, Herzeg-Bosna. He is currently being accused, together with several other high representatives, of having committed several crimes against humanity during the war that devastated the Balkans during the 1990’s. So is the case of Momcilo Perisic, who from 1993 to 1998 was chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army and is also accused of numerous crimes against humanity, notably in the context of the Srebenica massacre of 1995, the first episode of genocide in Europe after the World War II. It was extremely interesting for students to observe the courtroom procedure and how the prosecutor handled the witnesses.

Subsequently, students visited the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which enabled students to attend a 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 atrocious crimes ever committed in the African continent. In the ICC students also attended instructive lectures by Judges Sylvia Steiner and Hans-Peter Kaul, in an intimate ambience which favored a more personal contact of the students with the Judges, as well as a straightforward understanding of the intricacies of the ICC.

The students were then greeted in the Austrian Embassy in The Hague by the Austrian Ambassador himself. The visit included a meeting in which the students discussed several aspects of international law in the context of the organizations and institutions located in The Hague, their role and their challenges.

Finally, the visit to the International Court of Justice at the strikingly beautiful Peace Palace was also particularly gratifying. Firstly, the students were led to a small tour through the Peace Palace and then met with Dr. Cristina Ross in an intimate setting. They were thus able to present questions about the complexities of the current cases and how the International Court of Justice handles the contentious issues that fall within its jurisdiction.

Marcos Kleine (LL.M. class of 2008/09)