| THE HAGUE
THE HAGUE Feb 14 In a tiny office on
Zeestraat 100, Alice Helbing puts the final touches to a script
for an imaginary counter-terrorism exercise in the Netherlands.
A few doors down the corridor, staff from a legal aid group are
digging into real war crimes in Ivory Coast.
Nearby at Humanity House, a small museum devoted to raising
awareness about aid for the victims of disaster, visitors can
find out what it's like to be a refugee - to have to flee your
home, leaving dinner on the table, with no money, no mobile
phone, no passport, just the clothes you are wearing.
Behind its staid Dutch exterior, The Hague has become a
hothouse for human rights ventures and international legal
services, invigorating the local economy with new jobs and an
influx of mainly foreign professionals.
But it has also become so much of an international hub that
sometimes locals feel like strangers in their own town.
"The Hague has become an incubator, a sort of legal Silicon
Valley," said one diplomat who follows the courts.
Many of the rights and legal groups are housed in two
utilitarian office buildings near the city centre: At Zeestraat
100, staff from non-government organisation Africa Legal Aid rub
shoulders with game designer Alice Helbing and her fellow
conflict resolution trainers from the Pax Ludens foundation.
Around the corner, Laan van Meerdervoort 70 provides space for
groups like the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.
The policy-makers, foreign or defence ministry officials,
and students who attend Pax Ludens's training sessions on
negotiating tactics can role play to get a taste of what it is
like to be U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or to head the
Israeli and Saudi Arabian delegations and hold secret talks over
the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"We have to be here," said Diederik Stolk, a project officer
who develops training programmes for Pax Ludens. "We get access
to policymakers, ministers, diplomats."
Down the corridor, Africa Legal Aid tracks the work of the
International Criminal Court, the world's first permanent war
crimes tribunal, whose cases have so far all involved Africa,
including investigations in Ivory Coast and Kenya that have had
huge political significance at
ALA's director Evelyn Ankumah says the ICC's work in the
Netherlands is essential to address crimes that otherwise might
go unpunished in the places they are committed and, if anything,
its remit should be expanded to take on economic and
environmental crimes, piracy and human trafficking.
"In Africa, our heads of state, our leaders are committing
these crimes against their people, who have no recourse," she
"The Hague is a provincial town that has acquired an
international reputation, and there are wide-ranging economic
benefits," said Menno Kamminga, professor of international law
at Maastricht University.
"Certainly what The Hague and the Dutch government want to
have is lots of people with high salaries. It's good for the
economy: lots of courts, lots of lawyers, lots of conferences."
What originally put The Hague on the peace-and-justice map
was the first international peace conference in 1899 - an
initiative by Russian Czar Nicholas II to bring together states
in Europe and Asia, as well as Mexico, to discuss peace and
The conference led to the construction of the Peace Palace
that now houses the International Court of Justice, the United
Nations' judicial arm set up to settle legal disputes between
states such as the long-simmering dispute between Greece and
Macedonia over the latter's name.
In 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up in The Hague to deal with war
crimes during the Balkans conflict. It served as a model for the
ICC and cemented the city's role.
"It could be Paris, it could be Rome, it could be Brussels.
But the Dutch policy is to make The Hague the capital for
international justice," ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz said.
As the courts and multinational organisations moved into
town, they have changed its skyline, its social fabric and even
its tastes in food.
Currently housed in temporary quarters on the outskirts of
town, the war crimes court will eventually move into a stunning
glass space overlooking the dunes, designed by Danish architects
Schmidt Hammer Lassen and due to be completed by 2015.
Construction projects such as the ICC's new premises and the
new headquarters for Europol, completed last year, provide a
welcome injection for the local economy, but the financial
benefits go deeper.
International agencies and courts, from Europol to the ICTY,
spent about 2.7 billion euros in The Hague and its surroundings
in 2010, and accounted for roughly 11 percent of the local
economy, according to a report by consultancy Decisio.
They created more than 18,000 jobs directly, while a further
17,500 jobs were created indirectly as staff spend the bulk of
their salaries in the Netherlands.
"One job in the international cluster means two jobs in our
economy," Decisio said.
Hotels, shops and restaurants get a lift when celebrities
come to town, whether it is supermodel Naomi Campbell testifying
at Charles Taylor's trial or actress Angelina Jolie attending
Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga's hearings. High-profile
suspects who appear before the courts voluntarily are likely to
be accompanied by large entourages.
International staff often enjoy higher salaries and tax
benefits, giving them greater purchasing power. Decisio said the
average income of such international employees is 79,500 euros a
year: Dutch staff earn 54,000 euros on average.
That has created a certain feeling of "them and us", even
within the legal community, also in part because there is very
little intermingling between the Dutch and foreign lawyers, and
very few Dutch judges or lawyers at the courts.
Where many see the benefits for the local economy, some
bemoan the changes.
"You see it in the kind of things they sell in the shops -
the Americans want their M&Ms, the English want their PG Tips
(tea)," said an assistant at an art gallery in the centre of
town, and added that property prices in areas such as the
fashionable Statenkwartier district are now beyond the budgets
of most local people.
"I grew up there, and moved away, but now I couldn't afford
to buy a place in Statenkwartier," she said.