Posted by: jtshelley | February 7, 2012

International Criminal Law Services, The Hague

By Jeremy Shelley, Global Intern at International Criminal Law Services, The Hague

The Hague is a city which has been almost completely reclaimed from the sea. As such the weather changes by the hour, but is dominated by wind, rain and cloud. We sometimes feel as if our office were a small ship on a stormy sea of rooftops. Our sixth floor office overlooks the Peace Palace to the north and the city centre to the south. This really is a lovely city once you get past the incessant wind and rain.

ICLS as a small NGO has an impressive if short history and is supported by a remarkable panel of experts. ICLS projects range from training Ugandan judicial and military officials in international criminal and humanitarian law (ICL and IHL respectively), to producing ICL training curricula for legal professionals in the Balkans. The complete list of fascinating projects is available at the ICLS website.

Interning with ICLS has provided an enriching opportunity to work on valuable projects with inspiring people. For most of our time at ICLS, Giselle and I have been piecing together the constitutional and legal history of Kosovo, with a view to developing ICL training materials for Kosovar lawyers. With the imminent completion of the mandate of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) the continuing need to address war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide will fall to domestic practitioners. During the conflict and the decade before it, many Kosovar-Albanian legal practitioners were prevented from practicing in Kosovo. Further, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has amongst other things, introduced a new and fascinating constitution and criminal code. While, on their face, these instruments provide very strong protections for human rights and provide for the prosecution of international crimes, the training materials should allow more effective integration of these concepts within a justice system which is only now beginning to function effectively and independently.

Our task of explaining the available ICL mechanisms has been complicated by the gradual pace of redevelopment of Kosovar institutions. For example, it seems that other than the decisions of international judges (part of the UNMIK mandate) there is little accessible jurisprudence (in Albanian or English). We are told that the website of the Supreme Court will make some of this material available early this year.

Similarly, the duration of the conflict and the ever changing legislative framework has necessitated the creation of a vast and detailed legal timeline. However, after much research, it was discovered that for the purposes of the ICL, only two distinct time periods exist: pre July 2003 when the SFRY Criminal Code was in force in Kosovo and post July 2003 when UNMIK adopted the Provisional Criminal Code, which has since been formally adopted by the Kosovo Assembly.

This project has thus far been fascinating and rewarding, not least because we have had the chance to meet with a number of very senior and impressive professionals working within the ICL institutions in The Hague. These people give their time to ICLS because they see the need for quality outreach and complementary projects to address the challenges and imperfections in modern ICL institutions. Indeed our work reminds us that ICL is still a developing field and much work needs to be done, not just to improve existing structures and institutions, but to make international criminal justice a relevant and useful tool for post-conflict and transitional justice. For crimes of a fundamentally political nature, punishment and retribution are essential, yet the communities scarred by atrocity benefit most when the institutions and processes of international criminal justice allow them to rebuild culture and identity. This goal cannot be achieved merely by trials in a beautiful, rain drenched, western European capital. Rather it is the essential work of organisations like ICLS that bring allow people to employ ICL as a tool in the reconstruction of a community as they wish it to be.

Jeremy Shelley, The Hague


  1. Great post, Jeremy. I think that you’re experiencing some of the frustrations of working in post-conflict societies. Learning to manage your frustration at the lack of resources is very important. It sounds like you’re learning a lot and contributing, which is great to see. Say hi to Giselle.

  2. […] the website or read Jeremy Shelley’s […]

  3. […] the website or read Jeremy Shelley’s […]

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