International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Travellers to the Netherlands have long flocked to The Hague.
The city is home to the Dutch government, the cosy Mauritshuis museum (with its impressive collection of Dutch masters) and perhaps most popular among visitors, 11km of coastline along the North Sea.
But The Hague is also famous as the International City of Peace and Justice, a designation that has been built over centuries. It was the last home of 17th-century freedom-loving Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. It was the site of the world’s First Peace Conference in 1899 (and the second in 1907), out of which came The Hague Conventions, some of the earliest written declarations of the laws and customs of war. The Hague is currently home to 131 international courts, tribunals and organizations dedicated to world peace.
For the history buff or news junkie, The Hague offers a front-row seat to history in the making, an experience that will stay with you longer than the tan you would have gotten in the city’s seaside resorts of Scheveningen and Kijkduin.
International Court of Justice (ICJ)
Also known as the Peace Palace, the ICJ is Andrew Carnegie’s architectural contribution to world peace, complete with gold pheasants on the palace’s lawns and a bell tower that has been known to chime out Elvis and Beatles tunes. Built between 1907 and 1913 by French architect Louis Cordonnier and funded by the Scottish-born, American steel baron, the court’s grand neo-Renaissance style features stained-glass windows, tapestries, gilded chandeliers, a marble staircase and a gorgeous mosaic tiled bathroom.
Since 1948, the Peace Palace has been the seat of the United Nations’ highest legal authority, the place where nations sue nations. Although the hearings are few and far between (and conducted in high legalese), they are open to the public. Visitors are also welcome to stroll through the well-manicured, English-style seven hectares of parkland, and into the Peace Palace Library, one of the world’s most extensive in international law. Guided tours of both the Peace Palace and its museum -- where you will find more information about the Peace Palace’s other inhabitant, the Permanent Court of Arbitration -- are available.
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
From the Peace Palace, head up the wooded avenue known as the Scheveningseweg (it is a lovely bike ride) until it intersects with Churchillplein. On the left you will see the curved taupe contours of the ICTY, and if it is a busy news day, you will also find satellite vans parked outside.
Formerly housing an insurance company, the building now contains three courtrooms where those believed to be most responsible for the 1990s’ wars in the Balkans are currently being held to account. The hearings are open to the public. While the trial of the former military leader of the Bosnian Serbs and tribunal star suspect Ratko Mladic has not started yet, his political boss, Radovan Karadzic, is currently on trial in courtroom one. Check the Tribunal’s website for weekly court schedules.
ICTY paraphernalia for sale (including ICTY-emblazoned teddy bears, mugs, rompers and a Swiss army knife) is on display in the lobby’s gift case. There are also free postcards for the taking. After one afternoon in court, you will have something to write home about.
ICTY Detention Unit
Find your way to the Pompstationsweg road in nearby Scheveningen and ride by the fort-like detention unit that houses not only Mladic, Karadzic and other suspects of Balkan war crimes but also high-profile defendants from other Hague-based courts, including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, former rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and former Liberian President Charles Taylor (tried in an outpost of Freetown’s Special Court for Sierra Leone, based in The Hague to prevent unrest at home).