By the Honorable Jan van Zanen, Mayor of the city of The Hague.
As you might expect, my first 100 days as Mayor of The Hague were spent meeting people. At the city hall I met not only the deputies and members of the municipal council, but also many of the people who work for the city. I was, of course, also introduced to our important partners in matters related to public order and security: the police and fire service.
But above all, I spent a lot of time travelling around in our remarkably green city, by bike wherever possible (thanks to the lovely summer weather). I spoke to residents, business owners and met members of the international community. I was also able to speak to some Ambassadors and I was very much looking forward to meeting many more diplomats, as had been planned at our annual meeting with the corps diplomatique.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus prevented that, too. Much to my disappointment, I had to cancel most of my introductory visits. It has all turned out rather differently than I had imagined and I regret that. At the moment, however, it is only through our combined efforts that we can get the coronavirus under control. That is why we cannot do certain things. And the same applies to me, too.
Fortunately, we could still celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, albeit in a modified form. But this had the added advantage that everyone could follow the event online. It was a great honour to be there in the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial body of the United Nations. When the United Nations was born 75 years ago, large parts of the world lay in ruin. The Hague had also suffered greatly during the Second World War. Many were grieving the loss of loved ones who had fallen on the front, been murdered in concentration camps or killed in bombing raids. You needed coupons to buy many things and there were still shortages of everything, except for one thing: hope. Hope for a better and more humane future, to live in peace and freedom. The founding of the United Nations gave that hope wings, and new courage to people all over the world.
Now 75 years later, we can look back with gratitude on what the United Nations and its affiliated organisations have achieved. Seventy-five years of the United Nations and countless stories of people whose lives took a decisive turn because of the UN’s involvement. People who learned to read and write, and develop themselves, for example, and who could create a new life for themselves after a disaster or war. And now too, the world is filled with hope. Hope that the pandemic which has gripped us all and taken so many victims, will soon come to an end.
As Secretary-General, António Guterres, said earlier this summer, the world’s urban regions were the ‘ground zero’ of the pandemic. On average, ninety percent of reported cases have been in cities. Something which is not surprising, given that more than half the world’s population lives in cities. In the meantime, the cities still have to keep their public services running. That they have so far succeeded, says a lot about the resilience of cities and their inhabitants.
But this also means that repairing the damage caused by COVID-19 will have to take place mainly in the urban regions. From well before the pandemic, cities were working keenly to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. By tackling poverty and social inequality, for example, or providing clean drinking water and decent sanitary facilities. The Hague plays a leading role in achieving Goal 16: peace, justice and strong public services. Including in finding solutions to international issues, such as migration and climate change, that are becoming increasingly important. The vast majority of the climate measures will have to be implemented locally, in a practical, hands-on way. All in all, local authorities are finding that more and more global issues are landing on their plate.
This is also why cities have sought each other out in international alliances, such as United Cities and Local Governments and the Global Parliament of Mayors. Alliances where they can learn from one another and give a clear signal: ‘listen to us and involve us in tackling the challenges facing our world’. Cities find the United Nations standing alongside them in this. As shown by the calls made by the Secretary-General about the battle against climate change and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that these and other matters will only be resolved when cities are more closely involved in determining the course of the United Nations.
A course which, more than ever, must be focused on tomorrow and beyond, on the generations to come. And therefore it is only right that young people should play an important role in this United Nations anniversary. After all, it is essentially about the future they want and the UN they need. The Hague is pleased to offer young people a platform to think about this. As is already happening, under the leadership of Professor Alanna O’Malley, for example, Chair of United Nations Studies in Peace and Justice; a Chair created in honour of former Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen and shared by The Hague University of Applied Sciences and the University of Leiden. And how splendid was it that during the celebrations on 24th October young people could share their ideas about the future of the United Nations in the form of The Hague Manifesto which they then presented to President Yusuf of the International Court of Justice.
The 75th anniversary of the United Nations is a call to us all. The call, even now as nationalist sentiments are increasingly heard, is to continue our commitment to international cooperation, peace, justice and security. To be able to live in freedom and security, free from fear. Freedom from fear was one of the Four Freedoms formulated by US President Roosevelt that formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And which constitute part of our identity as a UN city. Something I am firmly committed to as Mayor of The Hague.
Main image by Martijn Beekman. The Hague – 1 juli 2020/ Jan van Zanen, burgemeester van Den Haag.