International Law and The Hague: The Peace Palace

LawLiving in the years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution and the foundation of Soviet Russia, Friedrich Martens was a diplomat in the employ of the Czars who played an instrumental role in the formation of international law. Representing the Russian Empire at the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1909, he is perhaps best known as the author of the Martens Clause for transnational law, but he also figured prominently in the establishment of the Peace Palace, which is also frequently referred to as the “seat of international law.” The first Hague Peace Conference of 1898 had called for the creation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration – and in discussing this development with U. S. diplomat Andrew White, Martens had mentioned the need for a permanent home for the new court. White took the financial requirement for this important building to the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who donated the $1.5 million dollars for the construction of a “peace temple” that was also expected to house a library of international law. French architect Louis Marie Cordonnier won the rights to design the Peace Palace through an international competition the Carnegie Foundation sponsored, and the eventual drawings fell heavily within the Neo-Renaissance style that dominated the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first symbolic stone was laid in place during the Second Hague Peace Conference and the official inauguration ceremony, which was attended by Andrew Carnegie himself, occurred on August 28, 1913.


The Peace Palace Officially Opened August 28, 1913
Photo credit: Pieter Musterd / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

For one hundred years, the Carnegie Foundation has been the owner and caretaker of the Peace Palace, which presently houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and The Hague Academy and Library of International Law. The building is one of “uncommon grandeur,” surrounded by gardens and situated on a north-south axis that that is customary with classical architecture. Built at a time of great hopes for world peace, in an epoch that included hundreds of active peace movements with millions of members and supporters, it stands as a monument to a huge peace movement that was sweeping Europe at the time – but which would meet with tragic disappointment with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Accommodations at the facility include a foyer, visitor’s center, deliberation room, seminar room, and an academy hall that seats up to 350 people. Lectures and seminars are constantly in session, with a myriad of presentations that occurred to honor the 100th anniversary of August 28, 2013. Due to its crucial role in international peace and justice proceedings, tours of the Peace Palace are only available on the weekend – in fact, the building is not open to the public during the week in respect to the people that are working there on a daily basis towards world peace. However, the visitor’s center is open daily for interested parties.

Meeting within the Peace Palace is the International Court of Justice, which is charged with the duty of settling – in agreement with international law – legal disputes that are submitted from around the globe. At times, the Court will also provide advisory decisions on legal matters that have been submitted by authorized United Nations entities or specialized agencies – and of the six principal organs of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice is the only one based in a location other than New York City. The 15 judges that make up the Court are elected to 9 year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council. Convening officially in the languages of English and French, it is also assisted by its managerial organ known as the Registry, which helps in the administration of international justice, diplomacy with litigant countries, and the general day-to-day organizational tasks of the Court as it conducts its business. Approximately 100 appointed officials, holding permanent and temporary office, work in the Registry – taking an “oath of loyalty and discretion” before assuming their appropriate duties. Their salaries and pension rights are the responsibility of the United Nations. Also meeting in the Peace Palace is the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which provides “services for the resolution of disputes involving various combinations of states, state entities, intergovernmental organizations, and private parties.”

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice
Photo credit: United Nations Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Down through the years, the Court’s research efforts have relied upon access to both the Peace Palace Library and its own library, which was officially created in 1931. Collecting publications since 1913, the Peace Palace Library is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious libraries specializing in the area of international law. Its primary function is to provide service to the various organizations that are housed in the Peace Palace, but it is also accessible to scholars and students involved in international law the world over. With over one million volumes that can be searched through an online catalogue, the Peace Palace Library is one of the many institutions within the Carnegie Foundation, whereas the official library of the Court that was created in 1931 is a separate entity and not open to the public. Benefitting in 1937 from a major donation from Judge Henri Fromageot of France, who was a Member of the Permanent Court of International Justice from 1929 to 1945, it now contains over 500,000 volumes that are in many cases very rare and precious. The purpose of the Court’s Library “is to assist the Members of the Court and staff of the various departments of the Registry – in particular the Legal and Linguistic Departments – with their research.”

So, how many important decisions on world terrorism has the International Court of Justice handed down, you might ask? The short answer to such a question is very few – close to none at all. Such conclusions on the part of the Court would require legal precedent, for which there is none to find. As experts on the subject have concluded, “establishing a universally accepted definition of terrorism remains a work in progress,” and the ultimate successful definition will “have to reconcile political expediency with international law.” These same experts are also very quick to point out that even the horrific “shock of 9/11 was not enough to break a century of impasse about how to define it in international law.” Down through the years, terrorism has been strangely and inappropriately regarded as political violence, rather than a crime against humanity – whether it is home grown or international in scope. In the years since the end of World War II in 1945, a comprehensive multinational convention on the subject of terrorism has never occurred – leading to “the continuing lack of agreement within the United Nations on a common definition of international terrorism.” In light of these facts, the establishment and inherent message of a monument to the victims of terrorism reaches beyond the confines of the United States, to the very ends of the earth – because terrorism is a crime that needs to be defined explicitly. Please join us in such respects by clicking on the link below and signing the petition to which this website is dedicated.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

About jrcclark

On October 2, 2001, scarcely one month after the horrors of 911, Representative Jim Turner of Texas introduced H. R. 2982 to the House of Representatives, calling for “the establishment of a memorial to victims who died as a result of terrorist acts against the United States or its people, at home or abroad.” The resolution was amended by the Committee on Resources in June of 2002 and eventually approved on September 25, 2002 on a “motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill.” It was sent to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but it has languished there ever since – in effect dead and going nowhere. In 2008, this Senate Committee considered making Dark Elegy, the work of a New York sculptor who lost a son in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, as the monument called for in H. R. 2982. However, the committee turned down the touching and thought-provoking sculptures of Suse Ellen Lowenstein – on the grounds that “…as compelling and impressive a proposal as has been made for the memorial in question, that we believe that, for the time being, that it relates to a very specific incident and should be treated as such rather than as a generic monument to victims of terrorism for all time.” Today the resolution seems forgotten, and it is the purpose of this website to promote a petition to the House of Representatives and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, requesting that H. R. 2982 be reconsidered and revisited.
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