Wednesday, 26 March 2014

ICJ and Trips Away

Good morning everyone,

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in Master’s land, complete with presentations, Court visits and weekend trips. To start with, our SIM clinic program wrapped up our final research project with a cool fifty-page report to show for it – the culmination of two weeks intensive work filled to the brim with group meetings and short deadlines. It is a bittersweet ending to one of my favourite parts of the program. I’m happy to have the final deadline out of the way, but I will certainly miss the interesting research work and collaborating with the members of the team.

As timing would have it, I got the chance to celebrate the end of the Clinic program with a short weekend away in Brussels. When you live in Utrecht, it is entirely possible for classmates to have rented a car for an impromptu weekend road trip to a nearby capital and if you’re lucky, for you to join in the fun.  Since integrating into Utrecht life, I’ve heard plenty about the ultimate debate between the Belgian and Dutch: who has the better mayonnaise? Yes, they take their fries seriously and the mayonnaise is very, very important, so of course I had to check it out. The verdict is still out on that one (although I am starting to see what all the fuss is about), but I can say for certain the ease of travelling to other cities is just one more thing I love about living in the Netherlands.

As beautiful as the Belgian capital is, the highlight of last week definitely has to be a trip to the International Court of Justice. The students in our LLM were able to attend part of the hearing of Serbia v. Croatia (a longstanding case at the ICJ) at the Court in The Hague, just ahead of the nuclear summit that is going on in the city at the moment. After a quick lunch in the majestic building, we had the privilege of meeting Judge Cancado Trindade to talk about the progress of the case to date (with no opinions, of course), the workings of the ICJ and certain aspects of international law. An afternoon well spent, and just one more piece of motivation, meeting those whose jobs many of us might someday aspire to have.

Monday afternoon marked the second last presentation required of our final Master’s classes. The presentations gave us a chance to outline our in-progress final essays to the class, judge each other’s work and receive feedback. Soon after, many of my classmates headed to the airport for flights home, making the most of the fact that there are no classes for the rest of the week. After the pang of homesickness that St. Patrick’s celebrations brought about, I was happy to be on a morning flight to Ireland. The course work comes with me, but it’s nice to have the comforts of home and a change of scenery every once in a while.

While I make the most of home life, I look forward to a few busy weeks ahead as the finish line approaches (of required courses, at least). Moot practice will begin properly next week as the ICC Moot Court team gears up for the competition in May. The many desktop folders on my computer are slowly dwindling and I will soon be left with one entitled “Moot Court” and the ever-so-daunting “Thesis” folder that has yet to be opened.

Until the next time/Tot de volgende keer!


Outside the Peace Palace in The Hague

LLM Human Rights and Criminal Justice students and teachers with Judge Cancado Trindade 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Carnival and Countdowns

Once a year in the Netherlands people in the southern part of the country party to their hearts content while everyone “above the rivers” continue along with their normal lives. March means it’s time to celebrate Dutch Carnival and southern cities like Breda, Tilburg, and Maastricht go into full festival mode, with everyone off work for the full four days of celebrations.

Of course, if you’re in Utrecht the only way to see a bit of the action is to head south.  Hop on a train in that direction during Carnival season and you won’t be able to miss the fact that festivities are going on all around. To see what all the fuss was about and lured by the promise of outrageous costumes and Dutch folk songs, I headed to Maastricht (as far south as it gets) on a train full of pirates, clowns and everything in between.

I had been told to bring a costume or risk standing out in the sea of highly thought-out Carnival gear and it was good advice. It’s hard to imagine you can walk through the city center in a full monkey suit and still look so plain, but you can tell some Carnival costumes have taken serious preparation. Kudos!

The Sunday parade, the official opening of Carnival, was a long line of theatrical costumes and floats, from giant walking clothes pegs to oversized ghostly headless men in suits, with a constant stream of Carnival inspired music to add to the mix.  It’s got a light-hearted family atmosphere and people, young and old, line the streets decked out in the most exciting costume they could get their hands on. After the parade, I topped the day of with a bowl of delicious Dutch pea soup (why not make an intensely Dutch experience that little bit more Dutch) and got back on the train with all of the slightly worn-out looking “Hollanders” heading back north to Utrecht for the start of the work week, most likely wishing we also enjoyed all those days off work.


March in Master’s student life means quite the opposite. It’s crunch time and the countdown to the end of Block 3 is on. It’s just five weeks until the end of the block, the end of the required courses in our Master’s, and the start of thesis time. You can still take classes in Block 4 alongside your thesis, but I haven’t yet heard from anyone in my class that they are going to take on that challenge. For me, the thought of thesis at the beginning of the year filled me with a slight sense of dread. Now, coming to the end of busy classes, it feels like a bit of a relief. I welcome the thought of being able to work on one project and fill my days with a mix of studying and enjoying the city. With warm sunny days, the park around the corner from my house filled to the brim over the weekend, full of students lying out in the sun, painting, reading and having a barbecue with friends. It’s window-open, balcony-reading sort of weather in Utrecht and somehow that makes studying a little easier and a lot more pleasant.

Until the next time/Tot de volgende keer!


Flowers popping up in the nearby Wilheminapark