The Hague

28 August 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at opening of Ministerial Conference on the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes [as prepared for delivery]

            I am honoured to be here on such a momentous occasion.

            The centennial of the Peace Palace is a great cause for celebration.

            It is also a time to intensify our work for justice and peace.

            I am deeply grateful to the Government of the Netherlands for continuing The Hague’s proud tradition of advancing these goals. They lie at the heart of the mission of the United Nations.

            Every day, sometimes every hour, I receive reports on conflicts raging in our world. Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia – these places show how the effects of conflict can last for generations.

            Today, the goal of settling disputes peacefully is as important as when the doors to this building first opened in 1913.

            The Charter of the United Nations requires all Member States to settle their international disputes by peaceful means. And it offers clear directions on how to achieve this.

            Article 33 sets out a number of methods, including judicial settlement, arbitration and mediation.

            I am pleased that you will discuss these three topics at separate panels today.

            The Charter gave the world the International Court of Justice. Member States may bring virtually any international dispute to the ICJ. Its judges have brought clarity and wisdom to a great array of issues – maritime disputes, environmental damage, international humanitarian and human rights law, and the application of many conventions and treaties.

            The Court’s caseload has grown in recent years, reflecting Member States’ increasing confidence in its value. And its cases have become more complex.

            The Court’s judgements benefit the States that are directly affected. And collectively, these judgements have made an enormous contribution to the development of international legal jurisprudence.

            I applaud all those States that have taken the high road of justice and settled their disputes peacefully at the ICJ. When countries submit to the jurisdiction of the Court, they enhance international stability.

            I call on all States that have not yet accepted the ICJ’s jurisdiction to do so as soon as possible. This will fortify the international legal order.

            The drafters of the Charter and the ICJ Statute also provided for the Court to express its opinion, at the request of the General Assembly, the Security Council and other UN entities, on relevant international legal principles and rules. The Court has used this opportunity to address a range of public law issues.

            My outgoing Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien, will discuss the important role of judicial settlement in greater depth this afternoon. Although she will leave her UN position soon, I am confident she will continue to promote the values of the United Nations in all of her activities.

            Arbitration, another invaluable tool, is one of the oldest legal methods for resolving disputes. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has a long and illustrious history.
It has issued awards spanning a wide range of topics, from land and maritime boundary disputes to the interpretation of international conventions.  I commend the Member States that have used arbitration to de-escalate tensions and find non-violent ways to resolve their disputes.

            I am especially pleased that this afternoon’s final panel will consider mediation. Mediation remains one of the most effective tools we have. It can help prevent tensions from escalating. It can manage and resolve conflicts. This can save many lives and put a stop to human suffering. That is why I have given top priority to conflict prevention and mediation under Chapter VI of the Charter. We have done a tremendous amount in recent years to increase our strength in this area.

To professionalize our approach to mediation, five years ago we established the “Stand-By Team.” It is made up of mediation experts with in-depth understanding of a broad spectrum of conflict-management issues. When a crisis erupts, these experts can deploy within 72 hours.

            At the request of the General Assembly, last year we prepared new “United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation.” This draws extensively on our own experience as well as the insights of Member States and regional organizations. The new Guidance will be fundamental to UN mediation efforts going forwards. It can also help others working on the peaceful settlement of disputes.

            I continue to place special emphasis on realizing the potential of women to mediate. That is why I have appointed a number of female mediators at the highest level, and I call repeatedly for bringing more women into key positions in peace processes.

I hope to see more women on all sides of the negotiating table – both as UN mediators and among the parties to talks.

When women have been targeted, we work especially hard to empower them through mediation. This transforms victims into agents of progress.

My Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, is just one of many UN officials putting gender issues at the top of the agenda – and working to solve conflicts in partnership with the affected women themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen,

            All different methods of settling disputes peacefully require States to reject the threat or use of force. When they do, the rule of law can flourish. And when the rule of law prevails, societies and communities – nationally and internationally – can also progress and prosper.

            Despite the immense value of the tools outlined in Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter, they remain under-utilized.  Our challenge is to show what they can do. When we make the most of these tools, we will reduce unnecessary bloodshed and build a more peaceful world.

            I applaud the judges, lawyers and scholars who have worked in this building over the past century. They have made a meaningful difference in reducing conflicts, resolving disputes peacefully and advancing international law.    

I am confident that all those who will work here for centuries to come will build on their legacy, making this Peace Palace a truly global castle of international law.

            Thank you.