Opening by Jan van Zanen at the launch of the third UCLG Peace Prize, 16 December 2021


Dear all,


A very warm welcome from The Hague.

My name is Jan van Zanen and I am standing here as both co-president of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and as Mayor of The Hague.

Naturally, I would have preferred to be with you in person.

But let’s be thankful for the fact that we can still be together in this way, even if it is only virtually.

To kick-off the third edition of the UCLG Peace Prize together.

A prize which, for all of us, is very close to our heart.

Because this prize honours the efforts of so many women and men around the world who work at the local level to build a peaceful society.


War and peace.

Many people associate that with nation states.

One country invading another.

Or with international organisations.

Like the Peace Missions of the United Nations.

Many conflicts, however, begin at local level.

And, conversely, there can be no lasting peace unless it is rooted in those places where most people live together: in towns and villages.

It is very important to continue to work for lasting peace, even if a community is not afflicted by active conflict.

And this peace prize is expressly intended for such initiatives.

Those who were there in Durban in 2019 will remember the chilling stories of the violence to which countless people are subjected in countless places all over the world.

But what I also remember are the examples of all those men and women who try to stop it, even if driven only by the courage of desperation.

Bridge builders, in the truest sense of the word.

Guided by tolerance.

Driven by a genuine desire for peace.

A mentality that we clearly see reflected in the inhabitants and local government administrators of Arsal, winner of the UCLG Peace Prize in 2019.

In Arsal, Lebanon, which has been hard hit by IS and Al-Nusra violence, the municipality was able to defuse tensions between refugees from Syria and the people who had traditionally lived in the area.

Fear has given way to dialogue and mediation.

Something which doesn’t happen by itself, of course.

“Peace is not the absence of war,

but a virtue born of spirit and a steadfast desire.”

Words written by Baruch de Spinoza which are entirely applicable to the commitment to peace shown by Arsal’s local government.

Spinoza, the philosopher who lived and worked in The Hague more than three centuries ago.


The plan to create this prize was also conceived in The Hague.

That was in 2008, during the first World Conference on City Diplomacy.

Organised by VNG International, together with partners such as UCLG and The Hague municipality, in the Peace Palace.

A building which symbolises our international city of peace and justice, like no other.

My highly esteemed predecessor Wim Deetman was there at the inception of the award.

To my great delight, he still sits on the panel of judges, alongside other leading international figures.


I witnessed the presentation of the UCLG Peace Prize for the first time.

That was at the UCLG world conference in Bogota in 2016.

When the prize was awarded to Kauswagan in the Philippines for their ‘From Arms to Farms’ project.

It was about former rebels handing in their weapons and making a new start in organic farming.

Three years later, I had the honour to be there again, this time in Durban, South Africa.


How could we have imagined then that one year later the world would be overshadowed by COVID-19?

As it still is today.

A pandemic with huge consequences.

Countless people have lost their lives or their livelihoods because of it.

Economies which were already weak, have been completely disrupted.

All of which provides fuel for potential conflict and violence.


More than ever, it is necessary to strengthen and support the position of local governments.

So that they can do everything in their power to overcome this crisis.

To alleviate poverty and avoid disaster.

To limit conflicts, while strengthening and preserving peace.


Everyone watching today, I therefore call on you:

To sign up for the UCLG Peace Prize 2022.

Really – just do it!

After all, it is about nothing less than securing one of the Four Freedoms formulated by President Roosevelt:

The right to live free from fear.

Thank you.