Speech by Jan van Zanen at the meeting marking 125 years of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, 12 June 2024


Mr Secretary-General,

Mr De Vink,

Your Excellencies,

Members of City Parliament,

Distinguished guests,


125 years since the First Peace Conference.

125 years of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

125 years of peace and justice in The Hague.

Milestones which we are marking this year and today especially.

I prefer to avoid the word ‘celebrate’.

The geopolitical situation gives no cause for celebration.

125 years of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, however, does invite us to reflect on the past and look to the future.

Three weeks ago, here in the Peace Palace, I had the honour of being presented with a remarkable book. Benjamin Duerr, jurist and diplomat, in his book ‘De droom van Den Haag’ (The dream of The Hague) describes the history of The Hague’s origins as international city of peace and justice. A lot has been written about The Hague’s path to becoming a centre of international law, as well as the history of the various institutions that give this city this honourable name.

But those books are mostly intended for a specialist audience. And almost all of them are in English. But with Benjamin Duerr’s book, ‘De droom van Den Haag’, there is finally a volume on this subject aimed at a wider readership, and in Dutch too.

As mayor, I am, of course, very pleased about that. Because the story of The Hague as city of peace and justice is far too interesting to be confined only to a small circle of insiders.

Benjamin Duerr naturally devotes a lot of attention to the First Peace Conference and its most important result: the Permanent Court of Arbitration. He also understands how much the pursuit of peace and justice is the work of people and how important personal engagement is in order to be able to do that.

The Peace Palace was specially built to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration. This building symbolises, like no other, what the pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries dreamed of: a world in which the rule of law, rather than the law of the jungle, prevails. Based in The Hague, they and later generations worked very hard on treaties and legal institutions, many of which are now based in our city.

New organisations are constantly being added. The Triple I NGO, which is working to set up the International Anti-Corruption Court, has today opened its European branch here in The Hague.

As Mayor and in my capacity as Executive President of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), world’s largest organisation representing local governments, I’m proud it’s annual conference will be hosted in The Hague this year on 8-10 October. I sincerely hope that the spirit which inspired the generation of the First Peace Conferences and the founders of the Permanent Court of Arbitration will spur us and our contemporaries to action once again.

Let us continue to build on the dream of The Hague. The current situation calls for it, that much is clear. To quote Benjamin Duerr: let’s create an agenda “filled with ideals, courage, resilience and high expectations”.

If it were up to me, the Third Peace Conference, smothered due to World War I, would still be held in the foreseeable future. The Hague municipality will make the case for this as far as we can, as we have always been committed to everything that benefits peace and justice in this world.

Thank you.