By S. M. Hali 

April 8th, 2013 was a historic milestone for the oldest organization in The Hague, where the Hague Conference on Private International Law celebrated its 120th Anniversary. This premier institution commemorated its foundation in 1893 by the famous Dutch Nobel laureate Tobias Asser with a conference titled, ‘The Hague Conference at 120: Today and the Future’. Held at the Academy Building on the grounds of the Peace Palace in The Hague, the event venerated the events, ideas and vision which first established the Hague Conference as part of the foundation from which the Hague evolved into a International City of Peace and Justice.

The goal of the august organization is to build bridges between diverse legal systems and facilitate cross-border co-operation in civil and commercial matters. This co-operation is primarily achieved through the use of multilateral treaties, or Hague Conventions. The 20th century saw The Hague’s coming of age as an international city of peace and justice. In 1899 hundreds of delegates from 26 countries gathered for three months at Huis ten Bosch (the royal residence) for the First Peace Conference.

The conference was summoned at the urging of Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov, Foreign Minister of Russia. An effort to set standards for conflict resolution between nations, it banned the use of certain types of modern technology in war: bombing from the air, chemical warfare, and hollow point bullets.

The Hague’s current role as host to international organizations and the international community is part of a tradition dating back more than 750 years. It was no one other than the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who coined the phrase: “Legal capital of the world” to describe the unique position of The Hague. These are weighty words, but not at all unjustified. The Hague has had an international character for a long time.

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It was in The Hague that the famous jurist Hugo Grotius wrote his book Mare Liberum (The Freedom of the Sea). Published in 1609, this work forms the basis for modern international law. The 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, known on account of his fundamental ideas on peace and freedom, spent the final years of his life living and working in The Hague. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands, the highest court of the country, has also been based in The Hague since 1838.

In addition, the Netherlands maintains diplomatic relations with 175 states, 115 of which are represented in The Hague with an embassy or consulate. Diplomatic residences are also situated in the neighbouring municipality of Wassenaar.

The Hague is the International City of Peace and Justice. It is the United Nations’ second city, after New York. There are 131 international organizations in The Hague, employing around 14,000 people dedicated to the cause of world peace. As far away as Sarajevo, Nairobi and Kabul, the name ‘The Hague’ represents hope: hope for millions of people that the crimes perpetrated against them will not go unpunished; hope for a peaceful future.

Pakistan has had two brushes with “The legal capital of the world”, The Hague in the near past. In 2010, Pakistan appealed to the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (CoA), complaining that the Kishanganga Hydroelectric Plant, being built by India violates the Indus Water Treaty by increasing the catchment of the Jhelum River and depriving Pakistan of its water rights. In February 2013, The Hague ruled that India could divert a minimum amount of water for power generation.

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In the second instance, in April 2013, Pakistan participated in a review conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is the only non discriminatory regime to destroy one entire category of WMDs, namely chemical weapons.

The Peace & Justice project is a joint initiative by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the City of The Hague. In the next decade, the aim is to consolidate the Netherlands’s reputation as the global Center of Excellence for Peace & Justice.

The fusion of “Peace & Justice” will signify expertise, knowledge and experience in the fields of national and international legal order. This includes building up national legal order in fragile states, so as to avert conflict and instead, to promote peace.

The world is becoming increasingly international. More and more actors are involved and they are increasingly interdependent. Hence, there is a growing need for laws governing their interaction. In order to conceive these laws, expertise in the fields of national and international legal order is needed, as well as an authoritative source of knowledge on Peace & Justice issues.