I always assumed that you had to know someone or be involved with the United Nations to visit the International Criminal Court, but visiting the ICC is surprisingly easy. This post will discuss a bit of the history behind the International Criminal Court, things to know before you visit the International Criminal Court, and a bit of my experience attending a trial.
The history of the International Criminal Court
The idea of the ICC has been around for quite some time and although there have been earlier attempts at establishing an international criminal court for war crimes (in relation to the Franco-Prussian War), it took many more years to come to fruition. In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime
In the 1990s, genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda resulted in the UN Security Council establishing two temporary tribunals to hold people accountable for genocide with the intention of creating a permanent tribunal. In 1998, the Rome conference finalized the establishment of the ICC. (My home country of the United States voted against it along with a few other countries, including Iraq and China.)
Finally, in 2002, the International Criminal Court was established. Today the court hears cases related to war crimes, genocide, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity. Victims are part of the court procedure and have a voice at the hearing itself.
It’s not to say that the ICC is not controversial. It certainly is and the court has been accused of bias, a racist agenda in regards to African countries, and slow speed. The United States in particular claims that there aren’t enough checks and balances and refuses to allow ICC judges/prosecutors to enter the United States partially due to the speculation that the ICC will go after American serviceman or government employees.
Things to know before you visit the International Criminal Court
I came into the experience of visiting the ICC a bit surprised that I could even attend a court session at the International Criminal Court. I was there during a session regarding Uganda when a witness was questioned by both sides. Like any courtroom, it will not be the most exciting parts 100% of the time, but it was interesting to watch. I read up on the case online beforehand, which made the session more interesting.
I had only seen the ICC in movies, so it was nice to see the
Getting to the ICC
The ICC is located at Oude Waalsdorperweg 10, which is a bit outside of the city center of the Hague. I’d recommend renting a bike at Den Haag Centraal or taking the bus. (There are bike and car parking at the ICC.)
It is free to visit the ICC between 9am and 5:30pm Monday through Friday. You do not need to reserve ahead, unless you’re coming with a larger group (more than 9).
Check the court schedule beforehand
If you’re intending to visit the International Criminal Court on a day with a trial, you need to check the court schedule on the website. Court sessions are not every day and this doesn’t require that much planning as the dates are generally announced at least a few months in advance. It’s still possible to visit the ICC on a non-court session day, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
One of the conditions is dressing appropriately for a courtroom. Most people dress quite professionally, so definitely bring some nicer clothes with you for the ICC. (Personally, I went with a nice pair of jeans, boots, a nice top, and a sweater. ) You cannot wear shirts with anything controversial on them!
Arrive 10-15 minutes early
Security will take some time as there are two levels of security that you must pass through in order to attend a court session. You’ll need to first go to the visitor’s entrance to present your passport or identification. (They will verify that you are 16+).
You’ll get a visitor tag to wear. From here, you’ll pass through security prior to entering the main building where you’ll find lockers/toilets on the left. You’ll need to lock up your items prior to passing through a more intense security check prior to entering a separate public viewing area. You’re not allowed to do a number of things in here, including use a phone, read, sleep, or be disruptive.
You must understand English or French
Court proceedings are in one of the two locations of the court: English or French. Staff generally defaulted to English when I was there and proceedings were translated into English when I was there, but apparently French is sometimes used.
Private sessions are part of the experience
Hearings at the ICC are generally open to the public and around 75 people can fit in the public session. It was far from full at the session that I attended beyond one large schoolgroup. If a witness is testifying in front of the ICC, they are directly underneath the audience platform, so they are not viewable by the public. Similarly, their face is hidden.
Generally, identities beyond the person in question are hidden, so witnesses are asked to avoid any names or identifying information. At various points, your headset will be muted as the court goes into a private session when the victim can discuss identifying information. You can’t hear anything, but you’ll see people below you. It depends on the case, but the ICC aims for most of the hearings to be public.
Your personal items, including phone, will be locked up
You are not allowed to bring much in. You’ll need to put your phone as well as electronics into the clear lockers meant for the public. They’re free to use, but if you expect an urgent call, don’t visit the ICC. 😉
No photos allowed
This is simple, but they do not allowed photos within the building. The view from the 7th floor over the Hague was quite nice, but alas, I didn’t have a phone.
is actually pretty good (and cheap!)
There’s a small cafe at the International Criminal Court where you can get coffee and snacks. Similarly, you’ll find an ATM and vending machines as there aren’t too many options for food near the ICC. You can pay with a card. I got a soy latte and it was actually quite good and inexpensive.