4 Things You Should Know About The Hague

"The Hague" conjures up myriad and often mysterious images for people. Some envision international judges in long robes, presiding over somber criminal trials. Others recall quaint Dutch streets, beset by Vermeer-like skies. Many, however, are unsure to what it refers.

As an international lawyer who spent three years working in The Hague, I treasured the rare opportunity to practice international law there amongst bright, talented colleagues from around the world. This remarkable experience included fascinating legal work at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal (officially named the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia).

But in explaining The Hague to family and friends alike, I noticed much confusion about the basic facts of my former place of work. To correct such misconceptions, I thus offer four things you should know about The Hague:

  1. The Hague is a city in the Netherlands. While you may think The Hague is a court, it is in fact a city. Why should a city have "the" before its name? That originates from the Dutch appellation "'s-Gravenhage," literally meaning "The Counts' Hedge." With a population of 500,0000, The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government and a home to the royal family. Its cultural offerings include Jan Vermeer's famous painting, "Girl With a Pearl Earring."
  2. The Hague is the "International City of Peace and Justice." Since the late 19th century, The Hague has played an integral role in diplomacy and international affairs. As early as 1899 and 1907, it hosted international peace conferences. This past March, world leaders convened there to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit on the prevention of nuclear terrorism around the globe.
  3. The Hague hosts international courts, some focusing on international crimes. Since the 1920's, international courts have proliferated in The Hague. The oldest is the "World Court," officially named the International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The courts that capture the most news headlines, however, are those that focus on war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Each of these courts is distinct from one another; some are affiliated with the United Nations and some are not.

    The Special Court for Sierra Leone, for example, recently reaffirmed that former Liberian President Charles Taylor is guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, well-known trials are proceeding against former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić and General Ratko Mladić. Several cases are also ongoing at the International Criminal Court.

  4. Aside from courts, The Hague is also home to many other international organizations. The Hague hosts over 160 international organizations employing around 14,000 people. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for example, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its "extensive work to eliminate chemical weapons." Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, assists EU member states in their fight against international crimes and terrorism.

So, the next time you read about The Hague in the news, you will know more essentials about its location and identity. Despite challenges, the diverse institutions there boast many international successes. Indeed, The Hague is an inspirational city that aspires to the high ideals of global peace and justice.