Toespraak Rutte bij het 100-jarig bestaan Vredespaleis

Toespraak van minister-president Rutte bij het 100-jarig bestaan van het Vredespaleis. (Alleen in Engels beschikbaar)

Your Majesty,
Mr Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Your Excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs,

Welcome to the Netherlands, bienvenue aux Pays-Bas.

The Hague is not only the 'legal capital of the world' and the seat of the Dutch government; it is also the city of my youth. So the striking outline of this fine building is a familiar sight for me. I still remember my first visit to the Peace Palace with my father when I was a child. Even then it made a big impression on me, especially the grand hall, with its immense staircase and impressive stained-glass windows and mosaic floor. As a child, I had no doubt whatsoever: this was what a palace should look like.

This very special childhood memory makes it an even bigger honour to address you today, on the hundredth anniversary of the Peace Palace. I do so with pride, as a resident of this city and as prime minister of a country that has championed a stable international legal order since the days of Hugo Grotius,. The long international tradition is tied to the Netherlands' history as a seafaring trading nation. Grotius still enjoys worldwide fame for his pioneering work on the law of the sea and the law of war. How fitting that today - the 28th of August - is also the anniversary of his death.

In his famous work De Jure Belli ac Pacis from 1625, Grotius wrote: 'Where judicial settlement fails, war begins.' On this occasion, and in this setting, these words are almost prophetic. Because using justice to prevent violence lies at the heart of everything that has happened here for the past hundred years. The importance the world community attaches to this role is underlined by the presence in The Hague of the International Court of Justice as a world court and a principal organ of the UN.

A day like this naturally raises many questions. After 100 years, where do we stand? What has been achieved? And what still needs to be done? This building, however beautiful and impressive it may be, is ultimately no more than a collection of bricks, furniture and works of art. The International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration are housed here, along with the famous international law library and the Hague Academy of International Law. But the significance of the Peace Palace is broader. It has become a symbol of the rule of law worldwide and an icon of The Hague as international city of peace and justice. Intellectually and legally, the tribunals and the International Criminal Court are closely connected with this building, even though they carry out their work elsewhere.

And that is what this commemoration is all about. The work of the people and institutions connected with this building and the positive influence it has on the lives of millions of men, women and children. Their names and faces may not be familiar to us. But it is they who give real meaning to this building and everything it stands for.

Because their stories, often too terrible to imagine, support the picture of the twentieth century as an age of horror. And that picture is justified. The First and Second World Wars brought destruction on an unprecedented scale. Cities bombed to the ground, millions and millions of victims, the concentration camps and genocide - it is still hard to believe what people are capable of. And the world did not become a peaceful paradise after 1945. For a long time the Cold War cast a threatening shadow over the world. And new flashpoints and conflict areas have emerged ever since - as Syria shows today.

But there is also another story, a story of civilisation and humanity, of justice and hope. And that, too, is a hallmark of the twentieth century. It begins in this city, with the first and second Hague Peace Conferences and the opening of the Peace Palace in 1913. Looking back, Nobel laureates like Bertha von Suttner and Tobias Asser, and of course people like Andrew Carnegie, with their idealism and determination, started an unstoppable process. The formation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration showed that sovereign states were now willing to submit to international arbitration in order to resolve conflicts. In 1946 the International Court of Justice was established. It was given the task of settling legal disputes between states and giving advisory opinions. It has performed this task in an exemplary fashion, thereby preventing the lives of millions of people from being blighted by conflict. The formation of these institutions was also an explicit recognition that war was avoidable, and not a 'human state of mind', as had been thought for centuries.

Paradoxically, the development of the international legal order in the twentieth century took place in parallel with some of the most terrible, large-scale conflicts the world has ever seen. But that does not detract from what has been achieved over the past century, step by step, through trial and error. A hundred years ago many people could not imagine that courts would play a role in interstate relations and that it would be possible to bring people suspected of crimes against humanity before an international court. Nowadays we find this quite normal. But it is the result of a century's commitment to developing the rule of law.

Today, in this city alone, thousands of people of many different nationalities are advancing the ideal of a just and peaceful world. More than ever before in world history, the international community is able to settle disputes peacefully and take action if the rule of law is violated. The Peace Palace is the symbolic birthplace and the engine room of this process. And that is what we are celebrating today.

Today is also a good occasion for recognising how much work lies ahead. The current list of minor and major international conflicts is long. Careful international legal proceedings are far from simple and therefore take time. So I agree with you, Mr Secretary-General, that the rule of law deserves even more attention and commitment. In 2012 you presented an action programme to the UN General Assembly for this purpose. The institutions and organisations exist. The international conventions also exist. What we need today is for countries - both individually, and collectively within the UN - to actively ensure that agreements are complied with and improvements made where necessary.
This includes bolstering the position of women and children, improving national legal systems and fighting corruption. You, Mr Secretary-General, addressed all these issues last year.

The Dutch government fully supports the action programme. After all, article 90 of the Dutch Constitution states: 'The government shall promote the development of the international legal order.' We take this ongoing task very seriously. That is why the Netherlands has traditionally, with pride and conviction, offered its hospitality to a large number of worthy international legal institutions. Enhancing the peaceful international settlement of disputes is one of our key priorities, so I am pleased that your plan draws attention to this issue. This afternoon, my colleague Frans Timmermans will host a ministerial conference on this theme. The increasing importance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in recent decades points to the growing need for peaceful dispute settlement. The work of the Permanent Court complements that of the International Court of Justice. And it deserves the highest praise for the way it has recently renewed itself by developing new arbitration rules for current disputes. We should applaud this. After all, prevention is always better than cure.

Another point in the action programme that I would like to highlight at this centennial celebration is the socioeconomic dimension of the rule of law. I am firmly convinced that a stable legal order and a robust economy go hand in hand. Even Hugo Grotius knew that. Security, legal certainty, personal development and enterprise are all interconnected. People who do not have to fear injustice and violence on a daily basis will be more willing to invest in their own and in their country's future.
And businesses that want to invest in another part of the world will only do so if they are confident of a safe return on their money. A growing number of international companies are taking their corporate social responsibility seriously, and no longer do business with countries or partners that do not respect the law. They do this out of conviction and also because CSR is an investment that yields a return. In short: a stable international legal order is a precondition for growth and development. This message deserves much more emphasis internationally. And as the global economy becomes more and more interwoven, there are new opportunities and platforms. So let's get the message out there!

Ladies and gentlemen,

The establishment of the Peace Palace a hundred years ago was certainly an act of idealism. But it was an act of practical idealism, focused on reality and results. And it continues to inspire us. I welcome the fact that on 21 September, during a one-off running event called the 'Vredesloop' or 'Peace Run', thousands of runners will translate their commitment to the Peace Palace and its important work into a sporting performance. So the message that this centennial sends to the rest of the world is clear: peace, security and legal certainty will continue to demand commitment, perseverance and dedication over the next hundred years.

Andrew Carnegie himself once described the Peace Palace as 'the most holy building in the world - because it has the holiest end in view'. Let us continue to make the same uncompromising commitment to peace, justice and human dignity.

Thank you.

De Rijksoverheid. Voor Nederland.