The summer of 2012 was life changing for me. I made my first venture to the Netherlands for a study abroad course focused on Peace, Justice, and Human Rights with special emphasis on the International Criminal Court. I spent my summer with six student and an amazing professor exploring The Hague and the numerous International Justice systems based there such as International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL),Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) International Criminal Court (ICC), and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), amongst others. Perhaps the biggest part of the summer was the capstone project of the course- “A Grotian Moment”. This is when things really shifted for me.
A Grotian Moment (www.grotianmoment.com) was a celebration for the 10 year anniversary of the International Criminal Court entering into force. The event also commemorated the United State’s devotion to international justice since the 1899 Hague Peace Conference. A wreath placed by the US on the tomb of Hugo Grotius in the Niewe Kerk in Delft, Netherlands during the 1899 Hague Peace was cleaned for the first time as well as presenting a new wreath. The event included key speakers, Arthur Eyffinger, John Washburn, and US Ambassador of War Crimes, Stephen Rapp.
Sitting in the Niewe Kerk that day and for weeks after, I was astonsihed by my role in the project. I couldn’t believe that civil society could make such a huge wave in the world of International Criminal Law, let alone a small group of students from Central Michigan University. Anything is possible. This drove my decision to look for programs to further this fast growing interest of mine. I was lucky enough to receieve a scholarship to study Humanitarian Law at Leiden Univeristy on exchange for the Spring 2013 semester. I write this blog to you from my dorm room at Leiden University. This is where the real connections began.
Within my first weeks of classes at Leiden, I began to meet students from all over the world and became fast friends with a woman named Danean from Vancouver, Canada. Like me, she was pursuing a degree in Political Science and had really no idea what she was going to do with it. For a class assignment we had to choose a city in the Netherlands, explore a bit, and write a report on the culture we observed there. After weeks of Danean hearing what I loved about Delft she wanted me to show her around. The first sight on the list- the Niewe Kerk. We set out early that morning, got off the train in Delft and headed straigh for the church (it’s hard to miss from anywhere in the city center). She was amazed as soon as she walked in. I showed her to Grotius’ Tomb and explained what A Grotian Moment looked like. She too, was amazed that someone who wasn’t a high ranking government official could do something so big. We then got to talking about The Hague Peace Conferences and the advancement of international criminal law. I explained that the first step towards a governing body of peace was the Permanent Court of Arbitration which is based in the Peace Palace. Her response- “What’s the Peace Palace?” After a quick lunch and small briefing on Andrew Carneige and his choice to fund the building of the Peace Palace, we were on a trip to The Hague to have Danean experience the Peace Palace in its amazing glory.
Once we arrived at the Peace Palace, we went straight to the library and talked a bit more humanitarian law. Danean’s university had never exposed her to the world of human rights, humanitarian law and international criminal law. Like too many students, Danean had never learned about the ICC and its goal to end impunity worldwide. We explored the grounds of the Peace Palace while planning a day to visit the ICC.
The next week, Danean and I were on our way back The Hague and this time set for a tour of the International Criminal Court. During the question/answer session offered at the Court, Danean came with numerous questions- she really lit up over this subject. Although there was no open trial in the courtroom the day we were there, Danean turned to me and said “can’t you feel the history that has happened in this very room”. It was that moment that I realized I wasn’t crazy, someone else felt the same way I did about this subject. We explored the member states of the ICC and the signatories of the Rome Statute and debated why certain states were and weren’t ratifying the document. It was the perfect afternoon.
Being able to connect my love for The Netherlands with A Grotian Moment and the ICC reinforced an important lesson- education is everything. All too often I find that some students are so caught up in their degree be it Political Science, Biology, Law, Philosophy, Teaching, ect. They fail to see the world around them. For my first three years of college I always thought that ‘Political Science’ (my major) defined everything that I was going to do. Until my professor, Dr. Hope May, was able to connect to me. She shared the world of international criminal law and justice with me. It helped me to see my true potential, where my interests are, and motivated me to reach for more. All it took was teaching me about the world outside of my coursework at Central Michigan University. It was amazing watching this same passion come alive after two days spent showing Danean the same things I had learned. Just a simple lesson about an unknown topic propelled me into adjusting my life so I could live that passion. Danean used her new knowledge to enroll in a few law courses that focus on humanitarian law at her home university so that she is able to explore the field . A small connection can inspire a spark and a huge flame.