Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

International Justice/ICC: May '08

Young journalist from war-ravaged northern Uganda looks back on eye-opening internship at IWPR’s Hague office.
By Caroline Ayugi

At 6 am on a Saturday in early May, my eyes were glued to aerial view of Amsterdam as our airplane descended over the Netherlands after an overnight flight from Uganda. As we traveled by train to The Hague, I couldn't keep my eyes off the lush greenery of the landscape.

It all confirmed my driver's comment on the way to the airport in Entebbe airport that I was going to miss the dust.

The entire place seemed uncomfortably beautiful and peaceful to me. On the way to my apartment after leaving the central station, I commented to my editor, Peter Eichstaedt, that there was no sign of death in The Hague.

But barely a minute after my comment, he pointed to a badly broken bicycle. "Well, here's a dead bicycle. You said there's no sign of death," he said.

To me, the dead bicycle appeared misplaced in the city centre. It was crooked, full of rust, with punctured tires, yet propped against one of the nicer buildings in the area.

As we moved around during the day, I saw hundreds of bicycles at what I guessed was a university, all neatly arranged in rows.

And whenever I saw a man elegantly dressed in a suit riding a bicycle, I saw the obvious reason for the bicycle’s popularity in this developed city. A bicycle makes life easier in The Hague, and it did for me as well.

Many judges in Uganda drive the most expensive cars! But at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, ICTY, the parking lot was full of bicycles daily, with only two or three cars looking out of place near them.

Whether the bicycles were for the lawyers or not, I don’t know, but just the sight of them at legal premises appeared unusual to me.

I was a little tense when I went to the office for the first time as I started my internship. I wondered how I was going to manage working in a completely different place, with people who I barely or didn’t know at all.

And, I was to sit next to my editor! But what a good impression I got!

Lisa Clifford and Katy Glassborow, both IWPR reporters in the office, offered to help whenever I needed it.

"When you need any help on your stories, you are free to ask," they said. I thought that was very kind because no one had ever given me a story idea and offered to help me when I got stuck. I always had to do it alone. That's how it was back home, anyway. As freelance writer, we are careful with our ideas and don't want to share stories in most cases.

This experience, though, has made me reconsider working with others on stories, because sometimes struggling to do a difficult one alone can be unrewarding.

Becoming familiar with the International Criminal Court simplified many complex things for me. Now I know I can gain access to any big office without being afraid.

Meeting the high profile sources such as Beatrice Le Fraper du Hellen, a top advisor to the chief prosecutor, was an exciting experience. I had never talked face-to-face with people at that level before.

Back home we quoted such high-ranking people from a distance, and only when they made speeches or delivered statements.

But, this internship has given me courage, and I now I will be able to interview such officials in future.

The only part I disliked was eating in restaurants because it was so expensive. And, worse yet, I couldn't get my hands on the kind of food I liked. I was also amazed when I saw wooden shoes, which to me did not look comfortable. Although I have seen wooden flip flops, these didn't tempt me.

I wish I could have stayed longer, and given the chance to return, I would.

Caroline Ayugi is an IWPR-trained journalist in Uganda.

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