the Hub of The Hague
"Ça va bien?"
My office mates greet each
other brightly as they arrive at their desks. I'm not in a language lesson
gone haywire, I'm working in one of the most diverse institutions in the
world. At the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia, I have 1,238 co-workers from 84 different countries.
While French and English are the official languages of the Tribunal, Dutch,
Serbo-Croatian, and many other languages echo the halls as well. Most
business is conducted in English, and I rarely fall back on my smattering
of high school French.
Located in The Hague, the Netherlands, the Tribunal is responsible for
indicting, trying and sentencing individuals accused of committing war
crimes during the violent breakup of the afflicted Balkan republic.
I arrived in the Netherlands to begin a 6-month internship in the Tribunal's
section of Public Information Services, which issues press releases and
legal documentation and maintains the Tribunal Web site. I contribute
items for the internal news service, either writing stories about Tribunal
business or culling articles from news wires. This means I get to keep
tabs on world news and steal a front row seat in the dramatic theater
of international law -- an enviable position for an international relations
major with an interest in journalism.
My supervisors are Christian, the chief of the section, and Jim, the Tribunal
spokesman. A former Le Monde reporter, Christian is a tall, ebullient
French gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair and a perpetually full bowl
of peppermints on his desk. He has the direct friendliness of someone
who truly believes that the world can be improved through human effort.
Working with him, I have come to believe it, too.
Jim is a
compact, precise man with an unflappable demeanor that serves him well
during press conferences. He has a classically dry, British sense of humor
and enunciates tricky Serbo-Croat names with the composure of a BBC correspondent.
Into the diplomatic realm of broad gestures and vague declarations, Jim
brings the concentrated brightness of information and utility. He reminds
me of my conviction that a free press is the basis of any decent society.
Working in the press office
is like feeling the pulse of the Tribunal. The surrender of an indicted
Croatian general, the sentencing of a Serb paramilitary, or the appointment
of a new judge to the Milosevic case all cause flurries of activity. The
office television carries live video broadcasts from the courtrooms, and
the voices of the courtroom translators have become as familiar to me
as the voice-overs of action movie trailers.
Every evening, I join the commuters who take to the streets en masse on
bicycles. The Netherlands is famous for bicycling, and with good reason.
Bike traffic is so heavy here that cyclists have their own roads and traffic
signals. My local grocery store doesn't even have a parking lot for cars,
just three bicycle racks. Unlike the harrowing obstacle course of San
Francisco's streets, my commute here is a serene, effortless glide down
a bike path in one of The Hague's many verdant parks.
I'm living in Scheveningen, a quiet neighborhood bordering on the North
Sea. (Pronounced skhav'-en-ing'-en, this name was used by the Dutch resistance
to identify Nazi spies during World War II. Suspects were tricked into
saying the name which is pronounced differently in German.) Old brick
fishermen's houses line the narrow streets and willow trees lean over
the canals where waterbirds nest.
I will leave The Hague and travel through the Balkans before returning
to SFSU to finish my senior year. My route will take me through Belgrade,
Sarajevo, Zagreb, and along the Croatian coast. I don't think I'll turn
up any fugitive war criminals, but I hope I will gain some new friends
and a better understanding of this fascinating and troubled region.