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Students Study International Law in Belgium

students in Belgium
Students in Belgium

From the Commission of European Union to The Hague to the International Criminal Court, students enrolled in the college’s “International Law and Organizations” course stepped out of the classroom and visited Belgium, along with Dr. Randall Fegley, Coordinator of the Global Studies degree program and Associate Professor of History and Politics at Penn State Berks.

The excursion provided nine students with first-hand experience meeting with diplomats, visiting international agencies, and discussing course-related issues, with an emphasis on international law from March 3–11, 2012.

The group began their trip by visiting the Commission of the European Union in Brussels, where they had a briefing session with a Danish journalist. The students learned about the origins and structure of the Union, currents events dealing with the “Euro crisis,” and why certain countries–such as England and Denmark–are suspicious of the Union.

The following day, they traveled to The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government and parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State. All foreign embassies in the Netherlands and 150 international organizations are located in the city, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are located.

According to Fegley, the ICTY was established to deal with the human rights violations that occurred during the Bosnian and Kosovo Wars. Originally intended to be a temporary court, its mandate has expired and been renewed several times due to a continuous flow of perpetrators brought to court.

The group was then briefed by Bill Tomljanovic, one of the researchers from the prosecutor’s office, a Serbian American who was actually acquainted with Penn State Berks and Berks County through his travels. He discussed the process of cases being presented to the court and the various types of defendants involved in those cases.

The researcher explained that while defendants come from all sides, it was interesting to note that while in detention together, they got along fabulously. He showed the group a photo of the birthday party of Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Serbia, while in detention. The leader of the Bosnian Muslim militia, who would have been his sworn enemy, was celebrating with him.

According to Fegley, this suggests that the leadership was jockeying into position and really did not have strong commitments, but beneath them were various fanatics who would never speak to each other.

One such fanatic was actually on trial while the group was in Brussels–Vojislav Seselj, a Serbian politician. The students witnessed part of this trial, which dealt with a long list of crimes including murder, torture, and persecution of citizens on racial, religious, and political grounds. In fact, the list of charges was so long it took several days to read them in court.

“This is a rare opportunity for students to see history in the making,” commented Fegley about the trial.

After leaving the court, the group was met by General Bernard Droste, Dean of Aerospace Studies at the University of Delft. Droste accompanied the group to a Dutch Army base, where he discussed his recent venture into commercial space travel, in which he is investigating using space as a way to transport cargo cheaply far distances on earth. He also discussed international space law, a new field of law dealing with restrictions on using space.

The next day, they returned to The Hague and visited the International Criminal Court, which was founded in 2002 with the goal of replacing special courts for individuals tried for international crimes.

Fegley notes that the courtroom is set up differently than courtrooms in the United States: the witness stand faces the judge directly with a glass wall behind it.

On March 9, they went to the city of Ghent, where they visited the cathedral and castle. Fegley, who resided in Ghent as a graduate student, discussed the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 in the United States. He explained that this is an example of how a successful treaty is negotiated and written.

“I am amazed at what we as a class were able to see and experience in the span of a little more than a week's time, stated Erin Wade, a senior majoring in Global Studies from Leesport, PA. “I thoroughly enjoyed all the aspects of the trip; from visiting such profound organizations as the EU, ICC and the ICTY, to enjoying a Belgian street waffle and taking in the breathtaking beauty of Ghent.”

During their time in Belgium, the group stayed at Elzenveld, a conference center that was a convent in medieval times.

The trip to Belgium was partially funded through grants from the Penn State Berks Travel Fund; the Penn State Berks Student Fund; the Global Studies degree program; and the Division of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. In addition, students had an opportunity to apply to Penn State University Park for funding.

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