Peace Palace

Blog: 75 years United Nations


Great work done, much more to be done

The United Nations is marking its 75th anniversary. 24 October 1945 was a milestone in world history. A new world order was created to provide peace and security after the Second World War: the UN. Nowadays many feel that the UN falls short and this is, on the one hand, understandable. On the other hand, however, they are often insufficiently aware of the UN’s great successes.

On Friday evening the Netherlands public broadcaster NPO1 will transmit a lot of ‘goosebump’ stories demonstrating the good that the UN has brought about in its 75 years. From this week I have, due to my position, the privilege of participating on the Advisory Council of the Netherlands Association of the United Nations, NVVN.  Collectively this is an impressive network of passionate champions of peace, security, social justice and sustainable development and it is, I feel, an honour for me to be able to make my contribution.

These past years in the Peace Palace, I have experienced from very close by how one of the six principal UN organs, the International Court of Justice, works for peace: peace through law and justice. It is no surprise that one of the principle organs of the UN is established not in New York but in the Netherlands, in the Peace Palace in The Hague. International legal order really began in 1899 with The First Hague Peace Conference. 26 countries gathered together then and decided that future conflicts should be resolved not on the battlefield with the consequent loss of human lives and human displacement, but in the court room. With the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration it would no longer be young men with weapons, but wise arbitrators, and later, judges, who would resolve conflicts between states using words and justice. Andrew Carnegie wanted to house the Court in a “Temple of Peace”: the Peace Palace, and support its lawyers with a world class library. Thanks to the only Netherlands Nobel prize winner, Tobias Asser, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Hague Academy for International Law was established here shortly thereafter to train international lawyers and top diplomats for their countries. In 1945 it was decided that the judges of the International Court of Justice would also take up residence here.

At the Peace Palace we support and follow the operations of the UN from very close by. For the general public international conflicts and the UN Security Council undoubtedly come to mind. Veto’s in the Security Council can cause feelings of frustration and powerlessness for many.  By harrowing injustice, a veto from one can lead to the suffering of others. But the judges of the International Court of Justice do not have a veto: they must decide on the conflicts laid before them. If the votes are tied? Then the vote of the President of the Court is decisive. Justice shall be done. For instance, within three months of the case The Gambia – Myanmar being brought before the court, the Court issued an order requesting provisional measures to halt the suffering of the Rohingya population, whilst the case itself will be handled further with all due care in the coming period. This can be the impact of international law. In all sorts of fields parties receive justice and hope by submitting cases to the International Court of Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration. International law has in recent years evolved significantly, in part due to their judgments.  There is hope.

There are many international conflicts currently pending for one of the courts in the Peace Palace. Let’s hope that these conflicts will be ‘resolved’ not by military violence but by wise judgments that the parties comply with.

The Sustainable Development Goals of the UN are also a source of hope. Besides combatting poverty, hunger and inequality, all important to maintain peace, there are also concrete goals to pave the way for clean water and sustainable production. And there is also a technical target, goal 16: Peace, Justice and Stronger institutions. Hopefully the vulnerabilities in the system, such as veto’s, can be dealt with. In order to do this, the international community’s commitment will be necessary.

There are major international questions, the pandemic, the climate question, cross-border criminality such as people smuggling, and armed conflicts. These problems cannot be resolved by one country. We need everyone in the world to solve cross-border problems, across the borders. Therefore, cooperation is essential, international cooperation. The UN flag flies every day at the Peace Palace. On 24 October the whole building is lit up in UN blue. Long live the UN!

What can we do ourselves? We can dedicate ourselves to the good causes identified via societal organisations, such as our national association, the NVVN. The UN Charter is amazing. It contains goals you would wish for everyone. Let’s work towards them together. This is our generation’s moment.

Erik de Baedts
Director Carnegie Foundation – Peace Palace
Member of the Advisory Council Netherlands Association for the United Nations (NVVN)

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