by Lutisha Vickerie, United States of America
The 2012 The Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice kicked off unofficially on Saturday, July 21st with an informal meet and greet in the square in front of the administrative building of the Netherlands Defense Academy. Participants circled and conversed, learning about each other’s home origins and various fields of study and interests over pizza and wine. Excited about what’s to come and not yet ready to go to bed, we took our first venture out in the Netherlands as a newly bonded group to Delft, where I had my first taste of bitterballen.
By the next day, when all of the selected participants had finally arrived, we were treated to a historical and political bus and walking tour through The Hague. So much history was imparted by our competent guide, with special attention to presently relevant sites, such as the Peace Palace and the Parliament compound. Painting scenes of traditional importance, the guide described the famous golden carriage ride taken by the Queen of the Netherlands to kick off the Parliamentary session on the third Tuesday, every September. The official welcome dinner, which took place later that evening at the Café Rootz Restaurant in The Hague, was not only a delicious delight, but also an absolute honor, as we were welcomed by Madame Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
As the keynote speaker for the evening, Madame Prosecutor Bensouda described a new international paradigm, using “law as a global tool to contribute to world peace and security.” Despite present disputes, Madame Bensouda emphatically informed us that “peace and justice are correlated,” as they are often pursued simultaneously. As I sat in awe listening to her speech and furiously scribbling whatever bits of knowledge I could grab, I began to think about how the commendable efforts of this one woman fit within a broader, global system, characterized by institutionalized international justice through global bodies, frameworks and judiciaries. Notwithstanding her enormous achievements, I realized that Madame Bensouda and our group of professional trainees share at least one similarity – we are all individuals allowing our passions to drive our efforts of world change.
This is the same similarity that brought us all here to The Hague. In particular, this is the similarity that pushed Cameron Chisholm to leave his position at the World Bank and start the International Peace and Security Institute about six years ago. Mr. Chisholm shared his story with me while walking through a busy street in The Hague. With the purpose of providing more targeted and effective professional training related to global affairs, Mr. Chisholm and the IPSI team spent many tireless hours perfecting a business plan and curriculum that would grant participants access to substantive knowledge and invaluable life experience. The Hague Symposium does just that – with focus on the various elements of achieving and maintaining international justice in post-conflict contexts. According to Madame Prosecutor, “2.3 billion people are under the protection of…global justice.” Of that 2.3 billion, 800 people applied to The Hague Symposium and only 60 were selected to train under the tutelage of world renowned experts. This certainly makes one feel special.
Monday, our first “work” day, was held at the beautifully renovated Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, where we received a tour of the grounds – such breath-taking landscape! Our icebreaker allowed us to spend time getting to know one person we were sitting next to and then introducing that person to the rest of the group using unique facts that we learned. 60 participants representing 26 countries with numerous voices and stories. Lots of graduate students, researchers, lawyers, and Aussie’s. As a Guyanese-American, I truly feel blessed to be amongst a class of people with amazing backgrounds, distinct perspectives, and exciting futures. Truth be told, our facebook profiles do not even touch the ‘amazingness’ that is this class.
Monday ended with another official welcome from Den Haag City Government official, Bob Lagerwaard, who is the Coordinator of the International Organisations Cluster. In his informative, yet light-hearted speech, Mr. Lagerwaard noted the great opportunity that we have to not only interact with world leaders during the upcoming four weeks, but also to get a more in depth experience with our site visits to the ICC and ICTY. As the first class of The Hague Symposium, we are an extremely lucky group. Indeed, to quote Mr. Chisholm, “the red carpet has been rolled out for us.” I, for one, am enjoying every moment of it, and also plan on making the most out of every opportunity this symposium has to offer.