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Peace Palace Centenary Celebrations, 28 August 2013

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By Roy Lie A Tjam

To mark this important anniversary of the Peace Palace, a celebration took place in the Great Hall of Justice. The president of the Carnegie Foundation, Dr Bernard Bot, delivered the welcome address, introducing the three key speakers: the Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Mark Rutte. His Majesty King Willem-Alexander was also in attendance.

Dr Bot delivered the words of welcome to the guests. He said the anniversary was a chance to reflect on the international community’s achievements over the last hundred years. He referred to the presence of the founder of the Peace Palace, Andrew Carnegie’s great-grandchildren and noted how the philanthropist Carnegie believed that such an international instrument could help lead to a legal abolition of war.

Mayor Jozias van Aartsen remarked that the event honoured Andrew Carnegie, the man who made possible this building, which he himself described as a Temple of Peace. Mayor Van Aartsen said that he strongly believed that the many international organisations based in The Hague can provide effective support to countries on the brink of conflict or emerging from conflict, and to assist them in establishing the rule of law.

It is for this reason that the city of The Hague recently established The Hague Institute for Global Justice, led by Dr. Abiodun Williams, and its partner organisation, the Van Vollenhoven Institute of Law, to consider the key elements of initiatives that have supported conflict-affected countries and helped to bring about sustainable peace.

Mayor Van Aartsen said he was sure that Andrew Carnegie would have endorsed The Hague approach as he was a man ahead of his time. Van Aartsen referring to Carnegie, spoke of his idealism, but added that he was a realist. Van Aartsen said that we should all be realistic idealists and added that he hoped that The Hague Approach will further the common goal, to create lasting peace.

Next UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon addressed the guests. He talked about the start of the journey to this centennial, The Hague Peace Conference, which was held in 1899. This was a unique gathering of delegates from the 26 sovereign powers, countries concerned by an endless cycle of conflict and carnage. The conference looked to the law to provide the strongest and soundest bulwark of peace. It was a vote of confidence in international cooperation.

Today The Hague is seen as the legal capital of the world, a centre of international justice and accountability and Ban Ki-moon thanked the Government and the people of the Netherlands for their many contributions to the development and advancement of international law. He also praised the generosity and farsightedness of Andrew Carnegie and the ongoing work of the Carnegie Foundation.

The Secretary-General touched on the current hot spots in the world, Egypt and Syria. He appealed to all Egyptians to show maximum restraint, to revive the political process and resolve differences peacefully through dialogue. Regarding the situation in Syria, he stated that the use of chemical weapons by anyone would be an atrocious violation of international law. He confirmed that it was essential to establish the facts through the United Nations investigation team present and reiterated that all avenues must be pursued to get the parties to the negotiating table. The key message was to: ‘Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking’.

Ban Ki-moon concluded by stating that he had seen setbacks and progress during his tenure as Secretary-General, but that he had also seen: ‘the capacity of people to make a difference, to turn commitment to action, to come together to make possible new laws, new rights, new opportunities and new attitudes that improve the human condition. Such gains suggest to me that the long-term trajectory of humankind can be one of uplift. That is also a mission that you strive here to make real every day. Together, let us work to realise those ambitions and ideals in every community and corner of our world’.

In his address, Prime Minister Mark Rutte paid tribute to the legal visionaries who started an unstoppable process: Hugo Grotius, Nobel laureates such as Bertha von Suttner, Tobias Asser, and people like Andrew Carnegie, with their idealism and determination. He said that the establishment of the Peace Palace a hundred years ago was an act of practical idealism, focused on reality and results which continues to inspire us.  He conclude that: ‘The message this centennial sends to the rest of the world is that peace, security and legal certainty will continue to demand commitment, perseverance and dedication over the next hundred years’.

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