As world powers appear to be moving closer to military action in Syria, The Hague is celebrating 100 years since its Peace Palace was officially opened on August 28, 1913.
The centenary kick-off comes at an awkward time, as a military strike against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – accused by the US, Britain, France, and others of having authorized a chemical weapons attack on his own citizens last week – looks increasingly inevitable.
Speaking from The Hague today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint, saying that a UN team investigating the claims needs time to establish the facts. The group has already collected samples and interviewed witnesses in the alleged chemical attack, which Syrian officials deny, outside of Damascus. He said the images were “unlike any we have seen in the 21st century” but urged a peaceful, diplomatic solution and called upon the divided UN Security Council not to go “missing in action."
"Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking," Mr. Ban said.
His words echo the theme of the centenary celebration launched today. “Since its inauguration," the website reads, "the Peace Palace has become a worldwide icon of Peace and Justice. Inside this monument and in its vicinity, thousands of people, employed by 160 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), strive every day towards a safer and more just world."
The first Hague Peace Conference in 1899 took place in an era of military expansion, when Europe was modernizing fleets and developing bigger weapons. “The modern age of large-scale, fear-inspiring weaponry was dawning,” according to the site’s history pages.
Leaders at that first conference in The Hague, chosen at the request of Russian Czar Nicolas II in part because it was accessible from many countries, decided to build a “temple of peace."
"About a hundred delegates from the 26 countries came to The Hague to discuss peace and disarmament at this first Peace Conference. The countries represented ultimately decided to establish the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which governments could ask to resolve international disputes.
Later, it was decided that the Court of Arbitration should be housed in a suitable building: the Peace Palace. Because the first Hague Peace Conference had been held in The Hague, the decision was made to build the planned ‘temple of peace’ here as well."
One hundred years later, The Hague is launching conferences on peace building, drawing on lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, as well as musicals and art exhibitions exploring peace. A running stream of messages on the official website capture a hopeful mood: “worldpeace 4 all”; another: “Be kind! Promote Dialogue with Non Violent Communication :) ...”; and another: “I love Peace!!!”