The Hague: Where countries settle legal problems

The Hague: Where countries settle legal problems

by Beverly Rice, December 2009

The Netherlands offers something for everyone. Tourists flock to capital city Amsterdam for the tulips, sex, and drugs. Nations flock to The Hague to settle international disputes, fight organized crime, and prosecute war criminals.

The Hague is home to over 150 international legal organizations including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court of Justice. The Hague was destined to become a haven for peace and justice; the first two peace conferences were held there in 1899 and 1907. From these events the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was established with the financial help of Andrew Carnegie.

Of the 150 legal institutions in The Hague, 9 major organizations stand out as they are involved in some of the world's major conflicts.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (TCTY) 1993

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established by the United Nations to prosecute war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. It has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia since 1991 such as violation of laws of war, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The Tribunal may prosecute individuals but not governments. Those found guilty can be sentenced to life in prison.

The TCTY hopes to complete all trials relating to the former Yugoslavia conflict by 2008 (appeals by 2010). As of this year, the Tribunal has indicted over 160 people. Of the 85 cases brought to trial, the scorecard reads as follows: 43 guilty, 8 acquitted, 25 indictments withdrawn, and 6 no action (defendants died).

The International Tribunal's most famous defendant was former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic's trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity began in 2002. The former president acted as his own lawyer; the trial was delayed at times due to Milosevic's poor health. Earlier this year, the trial ended due to the former president's death from a heart attack.

Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) 1997

This institution promotes cooperation with the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty through inspections to ensure member nations are adhering to treaty requirements. One hundred-seventy countries have ratified the treaty, an arms control agreement, that outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

The OPCW conducts inspections of military and industrial plants in member nations. It also works with stockpiling countries to monitor their actions and persuade them to join the treaty. As of January 2006, 17% of the world's stockpile had been destroyed.

International Court of Justice (ICJ) 1945

The International Court of Justice is the main judicial body of the United Nations. The Court settles disputes among member nations and gives opinions on legal questions submitted by international agencies. The Court makes decisions based on international conventions, international customs, and the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.

Not all member nations comply with decisions of the ICJ. The U.S. withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction in 1986. It only accepts jurisdiction on a case by case basis.

International Criminal Court (ICC) 2002

This Court is a permanent tribunal established to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Known as the "court of last resort,"the ICC steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute criminal activity.

The ICC arose from ad hoc tribunals established for conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. World leaders saw the need for a permanent court to prosecute crimes against humanity.

Countries ratifying the treaty grant the ICC authority to prosecute their citizens for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Cases may be referred to the Court by a member nation, country that has chosen to accept ICC jurisdiction, or by a 3-judge panel authorizing a case be initiated by the ICC Prosecutor.

Current cases before the ICC include:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo. The country referred to the ICC the matter of militia groups that use child soldiers in their civil war against the government;
  • Sudan. The UN Security Council referred to the Court the conflict in Dafur where genocide and human rights violations are rampant due to the fighting between rebel groups and the Arab-led Sudanese government.

Although 100 nations have signed on to the ICC Statute, notable names including the U.S., Israel, and China declined to get on board. These countries believe an ICC decision interferes with national sovernreignty and fear cases brought solely for the purpose of political motivations. ICC supporters maintain there are enough checks and balances in place to make such concerns unwarranted. Further, the definitions of the Court are similar to those of the successful Nuremberg trials.

European Police Office

Also known as Europol, this agency serves to improve cooperation between European law enforcement authorities in member nations by sharing intelligence to prevent and reduce organized crime. Law enforcement agencies using Europol include police, customs, border patrol, and immigration services.

Europol does not operate like your local police station. It cannot conduct investigations or make arrests but rather provides a central location for information exchange and intelligence analysis and training.

Hague Academy for International Law 1914

The academy serves as an educational center for research and teaching of public and private international law. Students can attend sessions taught by leading academics, diplomats, and other experts in the legal field.

Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) 1899

This Court (a.k.a. Hague Tribunal) is the oldest institution for international dispute resolution with nearly 100 nations counted as members. The PCA hears dispute between countries or between a country and private party (including individuals).

Feuding parties may apply for arbitration, mediation, or examination of the facts. Most hearings are closed to the public and decisions often remain confidential. The 2003 border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea was heard before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal 1981

This tribunal arose from the 1979 crisis where Iranian militants took over the U.S. Embassy in Iran and held American diplomats hostage for over a year. The tribunal was established to resolve claims by U.S. nationals for compensation for assets nationalized by the Iranian government as well as claims brought by Iran and the U.S. against each other.

About 4,700 private individual U.S. claims were brought to the tribunal. Payments to U.S. nationals totaled over $2.5 billion. The tribunal closed new claims to individuals in 1982. While most individual claims were resolved, several intergovernmental claims are still before the tribunal.

Eurojust 1999

Eurojust is comprised of national prosecutors and magistrates from the European Union. The organization was formed to improve the effectiveness of national authorities in their investigation and prosecution of cross-border and organized crime.

Providing a centralized location for the countries of the world to settle their disputes, the Hague is a long entrenched setting for everyone's greatest wish: one day, achieving world peace.