Brandeis in the Hague offered a firsthand view of the capital of peace and justice

Undergraduates witnessed international criminal tribunals' work, won moot court

Moot court winners from Brandeis

Can a simple hate-pamphlet lead to criminal charges for incitement to genocide? Can a businessman be charged with war crimes when his chemical products are used by others for gas warfare without his specific knowledge?

The answers depend on subtle interpretations of the lawpart of the curriculum in the new “Brandeis in The Hague” summer program, launched this summer. This innovative six-week program, which combined experiential and classroom learning, gave 18 Brandeis undergraduates a firsthand view of how law works in "the world capital of peace and justice." Students found themselves immersed in current international debates during a moot court competition, with the chance to test their learning under scrutiny of judges from Hague criminal tribunals.

The bilingual moot court in French and Englishin which a Brandeis team won first prizewas one of many experiences, which also included visits to visits to the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Guest speakers for the program included Brandeis alumni Nisha Valabhji ’94 and Benjamin Bilski ’02, and seasoned Hague prosecutor Ekkehard Withopf. The students also had private meetings with Judge Fausto Pocar of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and with Judge Kenneth Keith of the International Court of Justice.

For two of the weeks the Brandeisians were integrated with 28 law students and legal professionals from around the world, leading to interactions that some on the Brandeis program say they will never forget.

Nathan Koskella ’13 had never been abroad. “When I met the woman representative of the Parliamentary Association, I knew that was exactly what I want to be,” says Koskella. “I want to be her because...she knows how rules matter in politics. She knows how these rules are and I just like learning about these as a hobby, but they can be used for positive change.”


Vice President for Global Affairs Daniel Terris offers an overview of Brandeis' international engagements.


Brandeis in The Hague was led and taught by Legal Studies Professor Richard Gaskins, in partnership with the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies of the University of Leiden. Each year, the Grotius Centre gathers law students and legal professionals from Europe and around the world for a summer institute; the Brandeis students were among the first undergraduates to participate. The Grotius Centre and the Law Faculty of the University of Leiden were integral partners in every way, arranging for student housing, excursions to Netherlands cultural sites, and special security protocols. The 18 students lived in Leiden but made frequent trips to The Hague, visiting the International Criminal Court, the special tribunals and the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace.

The Peace Palace had always loomed large in the mind of Koskella, who says he has long had a keen interest in Comparative Politics. He says back when he was an eight year old researching a school project, he learned about the work that goes on in the Peace Palace. He says he always wanted to go there.

This summer, he not only toured the Peace Palace, but says his group was allowed into rooms not normally viewed by the public. This kind of access spilled over into lecture classes. Koskella laughs about the day he struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to him in a lecture hall, asking, ‘I’m sorry, are you another student?” Koskella says the man turned to him, “and he was real nice to me about it, and he said, ‘No, I’m a French Judge.’ I mean, it was incredible. It was absolutely incredible.”

“In all of their work the students exceeded my expectations,” said Gaskins, who developed the two-course curriculum in partnership with Brandeis faculty from across departments and with the Grotius Centre. “We really tested their endurance, setting the bar very high, and I’m impressed with how much they learned over the course of six weeks.” Learning outcomes included exploring the tensions between politics and law, between moral principles and legal rules, between national and international levels of justice, and between litigation and negotiated peace efforts. Students also came away with fresh ideas for research projects and career plans.

The Brandeis program was in the making for a number of years. It builds upon a variety of university strengths, including the work of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life; the programming of the Office of Study Abroad; a strong Legal Studies undergraduate program; a popular International and Global Studies Program; faculty input from the politics department; and an ongoing “Global Brandeis” strategy that seeks to build such campus and overseas synergies.

Dan Terris, vice president for global affairs and director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, says this was a pilot program, but that he is hoping to see it continue.

Terris says that the program has met with glowing reviews. “I just saw student evaluations,” he said, “and they are extremely positive.” Terris says that the students were virtually unanimous in their positive reviews, calling the program, “very effective.”

Terris says all who have completed evaluations say they would recommend the program to others.

Koskella certainly would. Leaning forward in his chair, he says the program clicked with all the students, from first years to seniors. “The program was an excellent blend of Professor Gaskin’s amazing lectures and meeting these incredible people. The experience-based learning…that absolutely connected to us.” He continued, “Because of a deep thinking, we could all go to law school. Who knows where we’ll go?”

J. Scott Van Der Meid, who is assistant dean of academic services and director of Study Abroad, called the new summer program “a great example of the our efforts to provide quality experiential learning opportunities overseas combined with an opportunity to engage directly with some of the best faculty on campus."

He said Brandeis would will be seeking to run the summer program again in 2011. For more information, contact the Office of Study Abroad at

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs, Student Life

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