corders in the hague

It's like having the Corders round for dinner - except the kids don't smash stuff and Mike doesn't drink all your booze. And when you're bored you can get rid of us with a mouse click rather than having to start tidying up the house.

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Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Monday, January 29, 2007

International courts

Life here in The Hague is not all just eating cheese for breakfast and cycling through pouring rain to take the girls to school. Sometimes I have to go out to work and most often that is to one of the big three legal institutions here: The International Criminal Court (first permanent war crimes tribunal in the world), the International Court of Justice (highest UN judicial body, sorts out arguments between nations about where they should put their borders, whether or not they can execute one another’s citizens, whether war is bad – that kind of stuff) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (name kind of says it all really).
The stories all crawl along at the ailing snail’s pace of international justice with occasional bursts of excitement when a head of state is indicted or dies in his cell or the United States gets politely asked by the ICJ not to execute a German bank robber and goes ahead and offs him anyway. If you’re interested, details of that particular case are at: So, in the end, for dedicated members of the press corps what really sets the places apart are the amenities.
ICTY: Based in a former insurance building of reasonable architectural merit about a half hour bike ride from home. Nice if it’s dry and cool. Bad if it’s either raining or hot – either way you arrive damp-to-soaked.
Has very poor coffee from a machine around the corner from the disabled toilet (which smells pretty ordinary most times I sneak in there – like people using it are directionally challenged, if you know what I mean). Also just outside the disabled dunny is a machine that is supposed to dispense Mars/Snickers bars and the like. The problem is that instead of taking your euros and handing over the chocolate, this thing generally just takes your cash. In a place dedicated to prosecuting the worst kind of criminals, this kind of daylight robbery seems to me particularly out of place.
Saving grace are the esteemed colleagues from the former Yugoslavia who make coffee by pouring boiling water directly onto espresso grounds. You wait until the sludge sinks and then drink. Powerfully good stuff first thing in the morning. The ICTY also has a canteen that will deliver sandwiches and soup if you call them. I have a PC permanently stationed in a news-agencies-only office there, which makes for easy filing easy and a convivial atmosphere.
ICJ: Based in a Baroque pile called the Peace Palace in leafy Hague neighborhood. Jury’s out on architectural merits. 25-minute bike ride from Voorburg.
Facilities here are quaint. There’s a heavy emphasis on oak paneling in the press room and a window that doesn’t shut (even when there’s a gale blowing a minus-10 gale off the nearby North Sea) when a TV truck is outside because that’s the only way of getting its cables inside. You’ve gotta love a place with half-ton oak tables and chandeliers for the hacks – and I think you have to applaud the journalists for showing reserve and not carving their names into them. But the place has terrible comms – one computer and no broadband cables or wifi and extremely patchy reception for filing from mobile phones or data cards. Saving grace is the coffee. It is served from a machine in a canteen that appears to have been built in a crypt, but you can hear the beans being ground after you press the espresso button and it actually tastes like coffee. I think you can even get it in a china cup if you stay down there. Take it up to the press room and it’s standard court issue plastic, I’m afraid.
ICC: Based in architecturally just plain dull former telecommunications building (at night, they bathe it in blue light, which is simultaneously wasteful and distasteful) and with a media center cobbled together in the building’s car park. Five minute bike ride from home – so close you can see it from Julia’s bedroom window.
Comms are generally good – wireless that works well so long as they remember to turn it on or places to stick a LAN cable. Little sockets for headphones if you want to follow (and record) proceedings on TV/Internet and file at the same time rather than going upstairs to the court room where recording devices are banned and practice your shorthand. Coffee’s bad, but not as bad as the ICTY machine. Smoking room has very stylish 60s-esque plastic chairs but they’re not so good that you’d want to go there and suck up the fumes. Desks for reporters have extremely handsome lamps that the ICC has very wisely bolted to the desks. This place has a canteen that’s totally out of bounds to the media but it makes up for that by on busy days (of which there have been about three in the seven months I’ve been here) by providing pretty good sandwiches and bottled water free, gratis and for nothing. You have to applaud that. But the real pieces de resistance at the ICC are the unisex dunnies. The cubicles are painted a seasick green and always smell clean and have the most amazing hand driers. These things are like jet engines bolted to the wall. When you put your hands under them, the water flies off and onto the toilet seat below so it looks like the same person responsible for befouling the ICTY disabled dunny has been at work here too. Hold your hands under the jet any longer and your skin starts rippling like people’s faces do when they’re pulling Gs as they hurtle into space on the Shuttle. This is funny when it happens to the slightly slack skin on the back of your hands but when you turn them over and the blast starts causing your palms to ripple, that’s just alarming.


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