The Hague, the Netherlands

28 August 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at ceremony marking the centennial of the Peace Palace

The journey to this centennial started in 1899 with the Hague Peace Conference – a unique gathering of representatives of the 26 sovereign powers of the time.

Those leaders were distressed by a seemingly endless cycle of conflict and carnage.

They sought solutions not in more fearsome weaponry.  Instead they looked to the realm that would provide the strongest and soundest bulwark of peace: they looked to the law.

The agreements they adopted brought at least some semblance of humanity to the conduct of war, building on the first Geneva Convention and forming the basis for modern-day international humanitarian law.

The Conference was a vote of confidence in international cooperation.

And of course it led to this magnificent building, this one, home to the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law and the phenomenal collection of the Peace Palace Library.

Today The Hague is known as the “legal capital of the world” -- an epicentre of international justice and accountability.

I thank the Government and people of the Netherlands for their many contributions to the development and advancement of international law.

I must also note the generosity and farsightedness of Andrew Carnegie and the ongoing work of the Carnegie Foundation.

            Le Palais de la Paix représente un idéal qui rayonne bien au-delà de La Haye : un idéal plus solide que la pierre; une notion encore plus belle que les boiseries, les mosaïques et les tapisseries qui nous entourent.

            Aujourd’hui, nous faisons plus que célébrer ce merveilleux bâtiment : nous célébrons l’état de droit lui-même. Nous célébrons un principe qui est la pierre angulaire de l’ordre mondial.

[Translates to: The Peace Palace represents an ideal that extends far beyond The Hague; an ideal stronger than bricks and mortar; a notion even more beautiful than the woodwork, mosaics and tapestries that decorate our surroundings.  So today we do more than celebrate this great building; we celebrate the rule of law itself.  We celebrate a principle that provides the bedrock of our entire world order]

The rule of law creates the predictability, transparency and mutual obligations that are indispensable for peaceful coexistence among countries..

It fosters the norms and practices that build strong institutions central to good governance, the provision of basic services and the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals.

It provides legal systems that can fight corruption and allow for the timely, principled and transparent resolution of grievances and disputes.

And it extends the framework of norms, statutes, mechanisms and processes that give people the human rights protection they need.

At last year’s High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, United Nations Member States adopted a far-reaching declaration that gives us a new tool to deliver justice at both the national and international levels.

Here in the Hague, you help sustain and expand the rule of law – you bring the rule of law to life.  

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, provides a vital platform for the peaceful resolution of complex and sensitive disputes. Member States from all regions are making greater use of the Court, and I very much hope that this trend will continue.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration likewise offers a low-key path to resolving differences early, before they escalate.

The Palace’s neighbours – the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – have been central players in the great advance of international criminal law of the past generation.

Convictions have demonstrated the new global will to hold perpetrators to account, regardless of rank or prominence of the people concerned.

And these Courts’ very existence has begun to serve as a deterrent to future crimes.  The threat of “ending up in the Hague” has become very real. They have to think very seriously before they commit something.

We are moving from an age of impunity to an age of accountability.

But is it is crucial for Member States to do more to sustain this momentum, through additional ratifications of the ICC Statute and greater levels of cooperation with international jurisdictions.

I want to use this opportunity to make a special appeal on behalf of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.  This Court has achieved important successes in prosecuting the brutal crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime.

Yet today the Court is in crisis.  The voluntary contributions on which the Court depends have run dry.  Cambodian staff have not been paid since June.  The very survival of the Court is now in question.

Financial failure would be a tragedy for the people of Cambodia, who have waited so long for justice.  It would also be a severe blow to our shared commitment to international justice.

I call on the international community to come forward with the financing to continue this most important judicial process – not just for the weeks ahead, but to see all the cases through to their conclusion.

This palace is by function a seat of law.  But in name, it speaks of peace.

When I think of peace today, my thoughts turn to countries and especially people caught in conflict.

I think of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The United Nations continues to strongly support the recent peace agreement that gives the region its best chance to end the years-long cycle of violence.

I think of Egypt, where violence and polarization have brought bitter winds to the Arab Spring.  I appeal to all Egyptians to show maximum restraint, revive the political process and resolve differences peacefully through dialogue.

Above all, I think about Syria, where a catastrophic civil war has killed more than 100,000 people by now, ignited sectarian tensions and generated instability across the region.

Now we have reached the most serious moment in this conflict.

The latest escalation has caused horrendous casualties.  And through images unlike any we have seen in the 21st century, it has also raised the spectre of chemical warfare.

The use of chemical weapons by anyone, for any reasons, under any circumstances, would be an atrocious violation of international law.

It is essential to establish the facts.  A United Nations investigation team is now on the ground to do just that.

Just days after the attacks, they have collected valuable samples and interviewed victims and witnesses. The team needs time to do its job.

Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance.  Give diplomacy a chance.  Stop fighting and start talking.

And here in this hall dedicated to the rule of law, I say: let us adhere to the United Nations Charter.

To those providing weapons to either side, we must ask: what have those arms achieved but more bloodshed?

The military logic has given us a country on the verge of total destruction, a region in chaos and a global threat.  Why add more fuel to the fire?

We must pursue all avenues to get the parties to the negotiating table.  The joint envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League continues his efforts.

Most of all, the Security Council of the United Nations must uphold its responsibilities under the Charter - moral and political responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations.

Syria is the biggest challenge of war and peace in the world today.  The body entrusted with maintaining international peace and security cannot be missing in action.  The Council must at last find the unity to act.  It must use its authority for peace.

The war has created a lost generation of children and young people.  Mothers, fathers, families face worsening prospects by the day.  The Syrian people deserve solutions, not silence.

Our common humanity demands that all do their utmost to end this tragedy now.

The search for peace and justice over the years has known many low points.

Places such as Auschwitz, Rwanda and Srebrenica – and the fields of Flanders just a morning’s drive from here.

Practices like slavery, colonialism and apartheid.  The everyday wrongs of poverty and prejudice.

But we have also seen inspiring efforts to avert future tragedies, and to build a world of equality before the law, and peaceful coexistence among peoples, cultures and nations.

I have seen both setbacks and progress during my time as Secretary-General.

But I have seen something else as well: 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 realize those ambitions and ideals in every community and corner of our world.