The Hague. Legal Awareness Promotion

The Court in the Hague – the Key to Any Global Issue?

We keep hearing that yet another case has been brought before the International Court of Justice in the Hague and that the time of reckoning has come! Beware, we are surely going to get you now! But what kind of court is it? How did it come into being, and what exactly does it do? Let us break it down in layman’s terms without referring to "stadtholders" or "the Netherlands" one-of-a-kind constitutional history".

First, where is the Hague located?

The Hague is the capital of South Holland, one of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. It is believed to be the country’s third largest city after Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Even though the Hague is not the capital of the Netherlands, this is the city that is the Queen’s home, the government’s residence, and the seat of the country’s parliament. It also hosts about two hundred different international governmental organizations, including the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, which are of particular interest.

Why the Hague?

We think that a country’s capital is the city where its government’s seat is. However, nothing is as simple as that in the case of the Netherlands and the Hague. It is common knowledge that Amsterdam, the country’s best-known city, is the capital of the Netherlands. In any other country, they would probably call such a city the "cultural capital", and that would be that. But not in the Netherlands. Here, if it’s the capital, it’s the capital, sparing us those ambiguous references to "culture".

So, we have just established that Amsterdam is unquestionably the country’s capital. Just the capital, with no ifs or buts. Let this be the place where trade, commerce, finances, and tourism thrive, together with culture. As for the Hague, it should be assigned the role of the nation’s political centre. The beau monde at its finest, nothing personal.

The international community liked this great idea of a political centre. A place without homeless people, drug addicts, slum districts or camera-toting tourists. A squeaky-clean place, socially. And so one thing led to another, and international organizations started setting up camp here by the dozen.

And now,  on a more serious note…

The UN World Court (hereinafter referred to as the International Court of Justice) is one of the six principal United Nations institutions established on June 26, 1945. The other five are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the UN Secretariat. The UN system is also known to include a number of smaller organizations. The International Court of Justice is the court of the highest resort, with only God himself above it. Many of us are reminded of Lermontov’s timeless lines:  "But God one day will judge you, friends of degradation!". However, the "friends of degradation" are notorious for not paying any attention to such invocations.

Housed in the Hague’s Peace Palace, the International Court of Justice is the only United Nations principal body located outside New York City. However, there is no doubt that it dances to its mother country’s tune.

The Hague. Legal Awareness Promotion
The Peace Palace, the seat of the International Court of Justice

Some of the highest-profile cases heard by the International Court of Justice over the past forty years include the following: Nicaragua vs the United States of America (1986), Yugoslavia vs NATO member states (1999), Georgia vs Russia (2008-2011), and Ukraine vs Russia (2017 and 2022).

It is worth noting some of the aftereffects of the court’s rulings. In 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States should compensate the Republic of Nicaragua for the damage inflicted due to the former’s aggression and its support for the Contras guerillas. The United States just chose to disregard the ruling blatantly. In legal terms, this is called "the refusal to accept the court's compulsory jurisdiction".

When Yugoslavia demanded that ten NATO member states be ordered to stop bombing its territory, the court ruled that "in each case, the consent of the United States would be required". The US, of course, did not give its consent, and so NATO continued to bomb Yugoslavia. Instead, the case of Yugoslavia’s President Slobodan Milosevic was referred to the International Criminal Tribunal, which ruled to remand Milosevic in custody for the trial duration. Mr Milosevic, the president of the country bombed and destroyed by NATO, ended up dying of a heart attack in his prison cell in the Hague on March 11, 2006.

Well, that’s the kind of court of justice it is.

Do criminals rule the world?

The International Criminal Court is not one of the official UN organizations, and it only came into being relatively recently, on July 1, 2002. It is an international court with the jurisdiction to hear cases of individuals accused of committing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. 

The Hague. Legal Awareness Promotion
The ultramodern International Criminal Court

Attempts to establish such a criminal court were first made immediately after the Second World War, but it took legal experts sixty years to figure out and agree on the meaning of the term "aggression". Finally, a consensus was reached. The definition of the term was seemingly approved. But not by everyone. The United States, China, India and several other countries still failed to comprehend the meaning of this term.

In 2020, its continued lack of understanding of this term led the United States to impose its sanctions on the International Criminal Court itself. The sanctions against Russia are nothing uncommon, but what did the International Criminal Court do to so displease the United States?

Well, this would be easy to explain. A guilty mind is never at ease. Aggression is the cornerstone of US policy. And should aggression be recognized as a punishable offence, then, according to international rules, a good half of top US officials would have to be designated as criminals.

On September 2, 2020, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained the US position: "We are introducing sanctions against the ICC because it has been acting against the US military personnel without the US consent". Alas, these days, US consent is required for seemingly everything. Or, at least, this has been the case until recently.

I would like to conclude this short piece with a quote from Lanzarote, a novel by Michel Houellebecq, a brilliant contemporary French philosopher and writer: "Despite everything, it seemed we were swiftly moving towards the concept of a world federation dominated by the United States, with English as its common language. Of course, the prospect of being governed by idiots was somewhat disagreeable; but it wouldn’t be the first time after all".

In case you may wonder, this was written back in 1999.

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