Opening of The Hague Justice Week by Jan van Zanen, Atrium, 6 June 2023

Your Excellencies,
Honourable Justices from Africa,
Judges from Colombia and many other countries,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great honour to welcome you to The Hague, the international city of Peace and Justice. The Hague Justice Week is organised by The Hague Municipality, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the context of peace, justice and the law, I am delighted to contribute to the opening of the Week here in the City Hall Atrium.

This year’s theme is Making Impact. We are asking the participants to focus on the impact of their work to help improve access to the law. Its impact locally, nationally and internationally.

Local peace and justice requires global cooperation. But it starts locally. The Hague’s many international institutions and organisations dedicated to peace and justice does not mean a lot to many of our residents. The realm of diplomacy and high-brow institutions for peace and justice is a far cry from their world.

But – just as elsewhere in the world – people living in The Hague too, come up against obstacles when seeking justice and satisfactory solutions. To gain an overview of those obstacles and solutions, a survey was conducted a few years ago at the request of the municipality.

A remarkable result from the study was that most people do seek legal advice or initiate proceedings. But in more than half the cases this does not lead to a satisfactory solution. How to achieve that and what needs to change in the legal system so that people can feel some sense of justice, is the challenge we face.

In the meantime, we are not resting on our laurels in The Hague. Municipal legal advisors visit community centres to address common legal problems in neighbourhoods. We are trying to find forms of arbitration or mediation which those seeking justice will accept as fair and authoritative. We are proud of the Zuidwest community court that opened last month. A court which rather than summoning people to appear, seeks them out in their own environment. To find on-the-spot solutions with all the stakeholders.

Because in a city where more than half the population has a migrant background from all over the world, the ‘justice gap’ will always have to be closed from both sides. On the one hand, by formally affirming and strengthening the democratic rule of law and respect for that.

And on the other, by expending justice close to people in their own surroundings. Because ultimately, it is a matter of finding a way for us all to live together that will make the city stronger. This is how we seek to bring the justice of the Peace Palace and the law of diplomacy closer to the ordinary people of The Hague.

This is The Hague’s contribution that I would like to make on this stage. Because during The Hague Justice Week influential actors from every continent will be meeting one another in person here in The Hague. Here they can establish contact with representatives of the many organisations for peace and justice based in The Hague. And online even more people will come into contact with one another during this week.

A number of African Chief Justices have combined a working visit to The Hague with The Hague Justice Week. The Chief Justices will be visiting the most important international legal institutions in The Hague. They will also be taking part in The Hague Justice Week programme, speaking on topics such as women in the judiciary and supporting peace and democracy in Africa.

The city of The Hague is honoured to be the seat of so many organisations dedicated to peace and justice and we greatly appreciate your work. The organisation of this meeting represents a small token of our gratitude. I would also like to express my thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for agreeing to do this with us.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the UNDP on the opening of its Dutch branch here in The Hague. As a UN development agency, the UNDP plays a vital role in helping countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Including in the areas of justice and the law. We are pleased to welcome them to The Hague, the international city of peace and justice.

I wish you all a fruitful Justice Week.