Interview: A Mother and a Daughter in the Peace Palace Library


Lisa Tabassi, a former research assistant of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal, and her daughter Tara Tabassi have been frequent visitors of the Peace Palace Library for more than 30 years. This month, mother and daughter describe their experiences and discuss their special connection to the Library. Find out how the Peace Palace Library became a real familiy affair for Lisa and Tara Tabassi.

Lisa registered at the Library on July 27, 1982 to be precise and during the years of her impressive legal career in several international organizations such as the Iran-US Claims Tribunal, the OPCW and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, spent many hours in the Library doing research for her jobs. Of course al her publications are in the collection.

The Library staff always had a warm relationship with Lisa because of her sunny personality, her enthusiasm and professionalism. It is wonderful that she passed her “library-passion” on to her daughter and we hope that they will continue to visit the library for many years to come.

TaraWhen and why did you start using the Peace Palace Library?

Lisa:  In 1982, I began working as a Research Assistant for the Bureau of Legal Services of Iran, which was established in The Hague to provide support for the cases to be heard by the newly-established Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.  In that capacity I was using the Peace Palace Library to research issues of international law for the Bureau.  I was later employed by the Tribunal to perform research for the three Iranian arbitrators.  In 1983, when your sister was born, I took a year off to stay at home with her and then began the research work in the Library again, part-time, while she was in the crèche.  In 1985, when you were born, I expected to do the same but as you spent most of the day sleeping, I decided to come back to work and bring you with me.  You slept in a carrycot under the table and when you stirred, I sat in the stacks and fed you and you would sleep again uninterrupted for another two hours.  In those days the Library was normally very quiet and there was an occasional very surprised face when someone noticed that I had a baby with me.

Tara:  How does the Library compare with others you have used?

Lisa:  The Library’s collection is of course phenomenal.  I always found everything I needed and more.  Research work in those days was quite different: we of course relied on the card catalogue and the systematic index was essential for finding sources.  The staff were always so helpful and that continues today.  As a Tribunal staff member, the Library had granted access to the stacks and it was such a privilege to roam the various nooks and crannies where the books were stored, on different floors and buildings.  Learning the locations was an interesting experience.  It’s quite different today, with everything accessible through the internet.  I now search for sources from Vienna and request the books ahead of arriving in The Hague.  If I need something urgently, the Library staff can accommodate that by sending a PDF of a necessary article.  Beyond the substantive value of the Library’s collection, I also must comment on the beauty of the premises.  The grandness of the building, the craftsmanship of the interiors and the gardens are simply exquisite.  The design of the new Library in the new Hague Academy building, with its expansive views from the windows, makes a Library visit such a pleasure.  It is a wonderful experience to work there.

Tara:  You have continued to visit the Library over the years and now use the Library remotely?

 Lisa:  Yes.  Over the years I continued research while employed as a Legal Officer in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague as well as its predecessor, the Preparatory Commission for the OPCW.  The Library was particularly vital for our work during the preparatory phase as the Commission was only just starting to acquire some books.  There were many issues related to the establishment of the OPCW which required research into precedents and practice of other international organisations.  The Peace Palace Library’s collection was always sufficient.  Only once did I need to consult the United Nations Library in Geneva to study its collection of the documents issued by the Preparatory Commission for the United Nations.  I continued to carry out research while employed as Legal Officer of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation in Vienna where I am Chief of the Legal Services Section.  So much is available on the internet now that I rarely need to go to the Library, however for older documents and some publications, the Library remains essential for our work.

LisaAnd now your turn.  I don’t need to ask you when and why you first came to the Peace Palace Library but why don’t you tell us about your visits to the Library as an adult?

Tara:  Being born into your arms, a working mother who carried me onto the grounds of the Peace Palace meant that this library space exists as a place for me to feel at home in.  It began with taking naps and drinking milk as an infant among the stacks. As a teenager, I spent sunny days and summer nights on the mosaic benches out front as a teenager, and in my early 20’s, I tasted sweet grapes from the vines hanging from the bridge trellis in early summer, and typed away at my Masters thesis at the Institute of Social Studies. I now spend many of my days sitting at the windows which overlook the back garden of the Peace Palace grounds and provide an vast view of the Dutch skies, while studying for my gender and sexual rights courses I am taking as a Netherlands School of Gender Studies student at Utrecht University.  Over the years, the Peace Palace library has watched me grow from baby to adult, all the while, providing a space of tranquillity in which to think and write, and ever reminding me of the importance of building collective structures for justice and accountability, as well as spaces for people to feel the privileges of peace and continuity, in our conflicted and often violent world.  I feel grateful that, as residents of The Hague, we spend our days biking around a palace built with intentions for the mediation and transformation of injustice.  I also feel grateful for inspirational people like you, my mother, who dedicate their lives to working towards visions of disarmament and non-proliferation, making it possible for the rest of us to keep working towards the peaceful societies we dream of.