The Hague: a city of peace and justice
2014-07-01 19:33:18 -
World News
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I have just spent several days in The Hague visiting the International Criminal Court; the Peace Palace, where activists from across the world hold peace conferences; and the headquarters of international police organisation Europol, which was established by the European Union.

World peace conferences have been held in The Hague as far back as 1899, and today the Dutch city not only houses numerous peace institutions and NGOs, but is also recognised as a global city of peace and justice.

The Hague is also the home of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and Europol, which plays a key role in combating organised crime and human trafficking.

The Hague has been indivisible from the notions of peace and justice since the early 20th century when the Peace Palace was built, between 1907 and 1913. Many countries and philanthropists – most famously Andrew Carnegie – contributed to the construction by donating funds, materials, works of art.
 
Ireland’s strong support

Ireland has been a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court since its inception. This country is the venue for international conferences for the study of the ICC at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway. In addition, and the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda visited Ireland last December.

One of the ICC’s most important provisions is the Trust Fund for Victims, which provides support for victims and communities affected by mass atrocities, and has benefited from Ireland’s consistent contributions. Unlike some countries such as Italy, Japan and the UK that provide earmarked or restricted support, Ireland has no such restrictions.

The ICC was established by the United Nations growing out of attempts to hold nations to account in the wake of the 1945-48 Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, and is an ambitious attempt to hold to account those responsible for serious war crimes, and crimes against humanity such as genocide. Set up by the Rome Statute of 1998, the ICC is concerned with the actions of individuals, not governments, and only steps in if a state is unwilling to act.

The ICC’s current dealings are concenred with Iraq, back on the desk of the ICC prosecutor following the submission earlier this year by a Berlin human rights investigation. Although it has previously been verified by the court that torture of Iraqis by British soldiers took place in 2006, it was considered the number of cases was “not sufficient” to prosecute on the grounds of “great crimes”.

‘Aggression’ is not a current active criterion for the court, but crimes committed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, such as torture, are considered. And still, the action that led to the invasion of Iraq may well have strengthened that case for the ‘aggression’ dimension being introduced in the near future .

Permanent court

The ICC is a permanent court unlike the ad hoc tribunals set up in 1992 by the United Nations Security Council following the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall for the specific cases of Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

There are 122 state parties to the Statute, with the notable exclusion of the United States, where attitudes to the ICC have varied widely. President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute but did not submit it for Senate ratification. Later, the Bush Administration at the time of the founding of the ICC refused to join, though President Barack Obama has re-established a working relationship with the court.

It has been a great privilege to spend a few days in The Hague, the city that stands as a symbol of world peace and justice and the belief that conflicts can be solved by law and arbitration instead of war.

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