Budget cuts and a landmark trial turn spotlight on the world’s ‘legal capital’

Kenyan president’s case crucial to The Hague’s reputation

A computer-generated image of what the International Criminal Court in The Hague will look like

A computer-generated image of what the International Criminal Court in The Hague will look like

Mon, May 26, 2014, 01:10

There has to be a certain irony in the fact that work is underway on a grand new €190 million, 55,000sq m permanent headquarters for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – just as the most important case in its history teeters on the brink of collapse.

The ultra-secure campus, which its architects say will “convey hope, trust and faith in justice”, is due to be finished by mid-2015, by when it should be clear whether the all-important case against the president of Kenya has gone ahead or has run into the sand, taking the ICC’s reputation with it. But the irony is not confined to the 12-year-old court’s dispensing of international justice. The ICC itself has no money, literally. It is just 18 months since the Dutch government stepped in and averted a crisis by agreeing to pay the rent on its current iconic lodgings, known as The Arc, for three years.

That is because the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the court’s umbrella body made up of 122 states, was placed in the embarrassing position of having to admit that its members were increasingly “reluctant” to pay their share because of the drain of the global financial crisis.

As concern grew, Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, pledged to subsidise the court to the tune of €3 million a year, up to a maximum of €9 million, to get it to the point where it is ready to move to its new premises at the Alexanderkazerne, a sprawling former army barracks in the suburb of Scheveningen.

Apart from having its rent paid in the interim, the other good news for the ICC is that this prime site has been provided free of charge – again by the generous Dutch taxpayer. The complex is just a stone’s throw from Scheveningen prison – popularly known as The Hague Hilton – which houses the UN Detention Unit, used not just by the ICC but also by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

It has held defendants such as the late Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor, the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg Trials. Current inmates include former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and his then military ally, Gen Ratko Mladic.

“Keeping the court and the jail close to one another has considerable security and cost advantages,” one Dutch lawyer and academic told The Irish Times. “It’s more efficient for everyone.”

However, there is a strategy to the generosity of the Dutch. With some justification, they have been actively promoting The Hague and its “international zone” as “the legal capital of the world” – a description first used about it by former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali. It is not actually the ICC but the low-key International Court of Justice (ICJ) that is the main judicial organ of the UN, and its headquarters has been located here since 1946, when it replaced the Permanent Court of International Justice in the same building, the neo-Renaissance Peace Palace. Since then, the ICJ has been joined by the ICC, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the ICTY, the Sierra Leone court, and most likely next year (as we reported recently) by a new EU-funded court to try crimes allegedly committed by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian rebels during their war with Serbia in 1998 and 1999. These courts, with their international panels of judges, their teams of lawyers, and their thousands of administrative staff, have inevitably attracted a plethora of associated UN and international organisations, NGOs, and lobbyists – many of whom are also significant employers – in additional to the usual diplomatic corps based here.

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