Today I watched the official commemoration of the Centennial of the Peace Palace, held in the presence of United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon and HM King Willem-Alexander. I must admit that I was touched watching it, seeing the same place I left not long ago with great hopes and dreams for a bright future in international law, seeing Prof. Yves Daudet in the front row of the audience, seeing Mr. Steven van Hoogstrten sitting next to Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and HM King Willem-Alexander, hearing the same interpreters, hearing all the peace wishes in the ironic context of the events happening today. I was thinking of the time at the Academy, of the goals that I set while there, of the will to study that being in the Peace Palace grew in me, the friends I met there – especially of the Syrian ones and the time when I will return to the Peace Palace.
The event started by the speech of the Chairman of the Carnegie Foundation, Mr. Bernard Bot, who invited the audience to hope for world peace, to reflect upon how far we have reached in this purpose since 1913, how this goal of world peace came any closer and invited to ending violence by law, reminding of the belief of Andrew Carnegie, the sponsor of the Peace Palace, that if slavery can be abolished, so can war be abolished. Also, Mr. Bot presented the Peace Palace a the hopes of the world without violence, war, dictatorship, a place where the rights of minorities are observed. Also, he mentioned the Hague Academy as the place where the new generation learns international law.
The Mayor of the Hague, Mr. Jozias van Aarten, the same one who invites all the students of the Hague Academy of International Law to a reception in the Hague City Hall every year, started by saying the centenary calls for reflection, as the international situation is worrying, as the rule of law must be established, as we should be living in a world where “men, especially women” should decide their fate. Also, he mentioned the efforts of the Hague Institute for Global Justice in developing 6 principles for sustainable postwar peace, inspired from the situation in Afghanistan, Libya and Irak. Also, he described Andrew Carnegie as a man ahead his time, a man being at the same time idealist and realist, stating that “flowers come in stony places”.
The ceremony continued with a presentation of the history of the Peace Palace, a presentation I think I watched almost 10 times during my visit there. “The Peace Palace – […] and what a building it was, just as powerful and majestic as the idea of world peace”. The presentation mentioned the ironic situation that the WWI burst just a year later after the opening of the Peace Palace. What I think is more ironic is that, here we are, in the same place, 100 years later, celebrating the world peace, while in the very same day the clock ticks somewhere to start war.
Mr. Ban Ki-Moon talked of the Hague as of the legal capital of the world, the epicenter of international law and described the Peace Palace as an ideal going further than the Hague, an ideal more beautiful than the tapestries that decorate the surroundings of the Palace. Mr. Ki-Moon continued by saying that what we celebrate is the rule of law, a concept offering predictability, transparency, mutual obligations, court governance, the observance of the Millennium Development Goals, practices to fight corruption and practices which lead to the resolution of disputes. The “phenomenal collection of the Peace Palace Library” was mentioned and also the Academy.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations continued by saying that the most of all he thinks of Syria (me too!), reminding of the 100 000 casualties, the instability across the region, drawing attention to the “most serious moment” that we are facing when the spectrum of chemical warfare is raised, causing an “atrocious violation of international law”. He continued that now it is essential to establish the facts and ended by saying: “Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking”, emphasizing the importance of getting the parties to negotiate. Also, he underlined the political and moral role of the Security Council of the United Nations under the UN Charter, stating the Security Council must use its authority to create peace, as “people deserve solutions, not silence”.
Mr. Ki-Moon also talked about the wrongs that our world went through, from slavery to apartheid and stated our world should be a world of equality before the law. He argued that the Peace Palace should commit one to action, to due attitude to improve human condition, to draw the long term trajectory of humankind, to strive everyday, to walk together…
Next speech was held by the Prime-Minister of the Netherlands, Mr Mark Rutte, who talked about Hugo Grotius, the pioneer of the law of the sea and the law of the war and quoted from Grotius’s works in 1625: “When judicial settlement fails, war begins”, calling it prophetic. He also continued by stating that war is not a human state of mind and that the Peace Palace represents the birthplace and the engine room of world peace.
Hymn for peace followed by an youngster choir.
Finally, the first copy of the written history of the Peace Palace was offered to HM King Willem-Alexander by Mr. Bernard Bot. The latter reminded the audience that HM’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, hosted the first Peace Conference in 1899, at the request of her cousin Tsar Nicholas II.