CHS students take part in mock international trials in Poland
By GARY HERRON
Observer staff writer
Recently returned from a European adventure and impressed with what they saw, two of three Cleveland High School travelers say they want to live in Germany someday.
Senior Annelise Van Buren and juniors Mollie Baland and Prestin Nikolai were among eight New Mexico students who made the trip to the annual Model International Criminal Court Trials, a simulation of actual trials conducted in the International Criminal Court.
The trials — students took on various roles, such as judge, prosecutor, defender, journalist — took place Feb. 16-21 at the International Youth Center in Krzyzowa, Poland, which was once a part of Germany. Located about 210 miles southeast of Berlin, the youth center is a historical site where a German resistance group against the Nazi regime, the Kreisau Circle, developed plans to re-build Germany after World War II ended in 1945.
With journalists and attorneys providing guidance and expertise, the students teamed with high school students from Germany, Poland and Israel — surprised that those “foreign” students also were pretty conversant in English — and became involved with three historical war crimes cases: the Nuremberg Trials, the Yugoslavia Tribunal and the Rwanda Tribunal.
“They don’t give the kids all the evidence,” said CHS teacher Karen Lewis, making the trip a second year in a row.
Van Buren, eyeing a residence in Germany someday, said she had the role of a judge and “did a lot of arguing with my team members” in the process. “I’ve always been interested in human rights; I would like to be a translator,” she said.
“This is an area I’m definitely interested in — human rights types of things,” said Baland, a visually impaired student who obviously doesn’t let that handicap keep her from enjoying her high school education. “I absolutely loved it: the great public transportation, the scenery was nice and the locals were nice.”
“I actually learned a lot about international justice,” said Nikolai, the youngest of the three, and also seemingly determined to move to Germany. “The music, the food — it was really beautiful.”
They saw the American influence: students wearing blue jeans, American hip-hop music in vogue, plus plenty of Burger Kings, Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFCs.
Nikolai said the biggest surprise was discovering she had to pay to use a restroom, and that the prices varied.
But there was more: Students got a few days to enjoy Amsterdam, where they stayed in a hostel (the rooms had two bunkbeds, tables and chairs — and no TVs; talk about a human rights violation) visit the Hague, see museums and other cultural sites, and were even treated to a guided tour of the famous Anne Frank House.
Familiar with the “Diary of Anne Frank,” Lewis said it was neat to hear a nearby church bell’s chime and knowing it was a sound Frank had heard when she hid from the Nazis.
“That was surreal,” Nikolai added.
They said they felt safe during the entire trip, but warned that pedestrians have to be wary because, in Nikolai’s words, “People don’t have the right of way.”
Other highlights: Quaffing Fanta orange soda and eating delicious, dark chocolate. (Baland said she spent about $80 on chocolate, most of which she brought home for her family and friends.)
The students stayed in touch with their parents in Rio Rancho, they said, thanks to the availability of WiFi in most places.
The NMHRP (nmhrp.org) is a non-profit organization in the state that provides unique, hands-on programs to engage students intellectually and emotionally to think about choices they might someday face when confronted with prejudice, racism, violence and discrimination.
Surprisingly, according to Lewis, Cleveland High students were asked to participate for the second year in a row. Milo Ventura made the trip overseas in 2013.
Ventura provided some advice prior to their trip: “He basically said, ‘You guys will have lots of fun and meet lots of people, but you will not sleep,’” Nikolai remembered.
“The kids we took last year (from New Mexico) must have impressed them,” Lewis said.
Students ultimately selected to participate had to complete two essay questions and two interview sessions before being picked to go.
In addition to the Cleveland trio, five other students, from Sandia High School, Albuquerque Academy, Bosque School and a Santa Fe charter school, made the trip.