The Peace Palace

The Peace Palace is an international court to avoid war.

After a delicious lunch in a small terrace restaurant in the downtown area of The Hague, students biked to various notable sights and places on their first day exploring the city. While dodging cars, people, and mostly other bikers, students were finally led to the Peace Palace, or known in Dutch as Vredespaleis.

The Peace Palace is a judicial building for member states of the UN to handle international disputes in a diplomatic, nonviolent manner.

Upon first glance, the Peace Palace cast a massive shadow upon the perfectly manicured gardens. On the periphery, the mid-June sunshine highlighted colorful pink and red flowers and illuminated the spring green courtyard. Meanwhile, a light blue United Nations flag played in the wind. It was quickly obvious that this building held a fascinating history.

Students entered the information and education building, quickly finishing their gelatos, and were led into a small area to drop off bags, mobile phones, and other electronics. Following this screening, however, they were not allowed inside the palace as a “confidential case” was in session. The tour of the educational center was soon to begin.

Within the courtyard of the education center of the Peace Palace lies what was called The Wish Tree. A symbolic tree decorated with the wishes of many visitors over the years. Many people wish for peace.

The Peace Palace was officially opened on the 23rd of August of 1913. The idea of such Palace was conceived by Russian and American diplomats searching for a place to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration. These diplomats, having found a location suitable in The Hague, reached out to American steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie for funding. After some convincing, Carnegie donated $1.5 million US dollars. Designed by the French architect Louis Cordonnier, the Palace was built in a Neo-Renaissance architectural style. The Peace Palace took six years from first laid stone, to the inauguration ceremony on the 28th, 1913. It was designed to act as a judiciary body where member states could go to resolve possible violent conflicts, which would otherwise lead to fatal and environmentally degrading outcomes.

Today, the Peace Palace holds two main bodies of judicial review. First the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which has been present in the Palace from the beginning. This court serves as a bench to resolve disputes between member states and intergovernmental organizations, primarily through international agreements. These agreements can pertain to any legal situation spanning from maritime boundaries to human rights issues. The body of the Court of Arbitration is composed of representatives from all member states. The member states may appoint up to four judges or arbitrators for a six-year term. An example of a case reviewed by the Court of Arbitration is an Island of Palmas case in which the United States and the Netherlands were disputing ownership of the territory of this Island. Ultimately the court decided that Island of Palmas belonged to the Netherland’s East Indies, and is now part of Indonesia.

The second court in the Peace Palace today is the International Court of Justice which represents the primary judicial body of the United Nations. Established in 1945 by the United Nations charter, it deals with legal cases among its member states. The International Court of Justice is composed of fifteen judges elected for nine year terms by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. The court mainly relies on means of compromising to settle major disputes. It is regarded as the court’s most effective approach to settling agreements. An examples of a case handled by the International Court of Justice was Nicaragua versus the United States. Decided in 1986, the court stated that the United States had violated international laws by unrightfully mining Nicaraguan harbors. However, criticism of this judicial body presented by the tour guide, focused on the limited jurisdiction to member states that does not effectively represent private enterprises, or even terrorist groups.

Students pose in front of the Peace Palace humorously symbolizing their understanding of the court’s true meaning; utilizing diplomacy to avoid conflict.

Close to the conclusion of the tour, the guide initiated a discussion within the group of students. The question arose, “Which is more important, peace or justice? Which one comes first?” This thought provoking inquiry led to a thorough debate, from which most students concluded that peace and justice must coexist.

-William Onorato