Groet! (Andrew Zapata)

| Andrew Zapata | 5 July 2012 | The Hague, Netherlands |

Greetings from Den Haag. For you Anglophones out there, that is the Dutch spelling of “The Hague.” To pronounce “Den Haag,” merely say “ha” (like the syllable associated with laughing), followed by the gurgling, rough “Ch” sound at the beginning of the word “Chanukah.” I will not even begin the linguistic jaunt necessary to explain the pronunciation of “Ary van der Spuyweg.”

Some might say that Den Haag (remember, no “G” sound) is the hub of the international law universe. With approximately half a million people, this city is home to, among other institutions, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Organisation on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Europol, and the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH). Query whether Den Haag also harbours the most acronyms per capita of any one city in the entire world. My role in this smorgasbord of international bodies is as an intern intern in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, colloquially referred to as the ICTY in international law circles.

The lead up to my internship could not have been any less reassuring.  The rigorous application process in October quickly gave way to an offer in November. Then, for six months, nothing happened. No visa paperwork to be completed. No calls from the internship coordinator in The Hague. For a while, I wondered whether or not this internship would actually materialize.

But with a ticket in hand and a place to live in the Netherlands, there was no turning back. Fast forward to May, when, in a mere 24 hour span, I went from regurgitating the tenets of American criminal procedure in a classroom in Queens, to frantically briefing myself on the ICTY’s docket aboard an Icelandair jet bound for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.  I was relieved to fortuitously meet two fellow interns (from Suffolk University in Boston) during my layover in Iceland, both of whom seemed to share my international legal naïveté.

Since that abrupt shift from school to work nearly two months ago, I have settled into my internship quite nicely. With over a decade under its belt, the internship program here at the ICTY has struck a great balance between practical work experience and academically-oriented lectures and seminars aimed at refining our understanding of international law and the history of the former Yugoslavia. On the practical side of things – the “guts” of the internship, if you will – I have gained invaluable experience in the field of international law.  The case I am assigned to faced a series of deadlines in rapid sequence, often necessitating our presence in the office into the wee hours of the morning. Ask me what it is like to work on a filing deadline with no electricity. Actually, don’t. While it has been arduous at times, I have developed an incredible rapport with my colleagues, as well as a budding skill set in international legal research and writing, which I hope to address in a forthcoming blog entry.  The academic lectures and seminars have been particularly beneficial in elaborating on areas of the tribunal that I would not have otherwise encountered. These include the roles of military analysts, political analysts, historians, the media, and other groups as the ICTY enters its last years.

While developing my core legal skills has certainly been a priority of mine, I can say, without equivocation, that these are not the most important concepts that I will take away from my time at the ICTY Instead, learning about the history and culture of the former Yugoslavia, and the war that embroiled it, are far more important lessons to learn.  The conflict in the former Yugoslavia spanned more than a decade and encompassed all of the modern day republics in the Balkans. Unspeakable acts of ethnic violence and cruelty were committed. Hundreds of thousands were murdered, raped, expelled from their homes, or otherwise subjected to the depraved nature of modern warfare. This summer, I endeavour to learn about the causes and effects of this war, and to hopefully take away some sort of true understanding about the nature of humanity. Without grasping these ideas, any knowledge of legal process is rendered formulaic and uninteresting.

Having the opportunity to offer some insight into my summer’s work at the ICTY is something that I hope will serve not only as an opportunity for self-reflection, but as a learning experience for those within and without our tightly-knit international law community at St. John’s University School of Law.


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