A bonus for LLM students taking the this year was the opportunity to visit some of the main international institutions in The Hague, during two tightly packed days there in January 2017. The group of sixteen participating in the trip included students from Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and the UK.
The surprise of the trip for me was our first stop, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. We had touched on its work in International Humanitarian Law but it was probably the institution with which, as a group, we were least familiar. The talk from its Senior Legal Officer, Grant Dawson, was excellent and what was striking is the OPCW’s success in backing up a treaty with a verification mechanism which has achieved real results in substantially reducing chemical weapons.
We spent the first afternoon at the Peace Palace, stunning inside and out. It houses the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, to which states can bring their disputes. We visited at an exciting time, Costa Rica and Ukraine had just instituted proceedings against Nicaragua and the Russian Federation respectively.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration, also based at the Peace Palace, was established in 1899 as the first global mechanism to facilitate the settlement of inter-state disputes. We had a talk from one of the Assistant Legal Counsel and it was interesting to hear something of the PCA’s evolution over the years to its position now, offering a flexible framework for arbitration.
Our second day moved focus from state level to individual criminal proceedings and began with the morning at the International Criminal Court. As well as a talk and mini-tour we were able to sit in the Public Gallery and see the early stages of the Prosecution’s presentation of its case in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, alleged Brigade Commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Seeing the process in action added an extra dimension to our studies. We saw the care the Court takes to protect witnesses and the interventions of the Presiding Judge, Judge Bertram Schmitt, to ensure the Prosecution’s examination did not pre-empt future testimonies.
We crossed town for our final visit, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Matthew Gillett, a Trial Attorney at the Office of the Prosecutor, gave us a fascinating insight both into the history of the Tribunal and the practical challenges he and his colleagues have faced.
All of the institutions we visit offer internships and for anyone who was considering applying it was very useful to see what these might involve.
As a whole, the trip added substantial value to our studies and we appreciated the institutions facilitating our visits and the time given by their staff. The trip was also a chance to get to know better our fellow students and to have what we all agreed was an amazing time. We are grateful to the Law School and other Westminster staff for supporting the trip.
LL.M International Law student
Find out more about our LLM in International Law here