June 20, 2019

The Peace Palace: Temple of Peace for the World

 By Sheila Turabaz

Mr. Erik de Baedts is the General Director of the Carnegie Foundation-Peace Palace and Treasurer of the Hague Academy of International Law since 2015. A soft-spoken yet determined man with a strong vision; Mr. De Baedts possesses a wealth of knowledge on issues related to peace and justice and has found his calling: enhancing the mission of the Peace Palace as a temple of peace for the world. We sat down for an in-depth interview with Mr. De Baedts to discuss his views on peace (through law), reflect on the past of the Peace Palace as well as to look into the future.


  • Mr. De Baedts, it has been more than three years since you have been appointed as Director of the Carnegie Foundation-Peace Palace. How do you reflect upon the past few years?

“I was inspired by the mission, or rather the calling of the Peace Palace. I expected this responsibility to be demanding, and it has proven to be so. I had not foreseen the impact of the asbestos in this monumental building.* ”

“During the past three years the financing of our current obligations (including the preparation for this large scale renovation project) has become more challenging. We are fortunate that the host country has always been financing the Carnegie Foundation-Peace Palace for a number of decades. They currently provide around 70 percent of our budget. But as the building gets older, and as the courts inside the Peace Palace are dealing with more cases that need to be served, our responsibility to maintain the building and to offer the necessary services has asked more from the Carnegie Foundation, where as our resources have not been increased, on the contrary.”

“I must add to this that the contribution of the United Nations for the housing of the International Court of Justice and of the Permanent Court of Arbitration are much appreciated.”

“In addition, the support of the Peace Palace Library to the courts is becoming increasingly important. Our library collection is still very relevant but this collection also needs to be maintained and developed — and thus financed —, and this has proven to be a challenge as well: more cases, on various topics in different regions, equally require more relevant publications that should be available whenever the Judges and arbiters require them.”

“In general, also given rising tensions in the world, these are interesting times to say the least, but fortunately overall, we are doing well.”

“We have recently received clarity from the Dutch government about our funding for the next two years, leading up to the renovation project. We are supporting the courts with their cases and have also prepared the arrangements how to better serve them in the near future. We are working to strengthen the support from the private sector as well, and we are working to enhance our mission as a temple of peace for the world, as Andrew Carnegie* requested in his deed by which our Foundation was established.”


  • According to Arthur Eyffinger, author of “The Peace Palace: Residence for Justice, Domicile for Learning” — considered the most comprehensive work about the history of the Peace Palace during the first 75 years of its existence — harmonious co-operation has marked the relationship of the Carnegie Foundation and the Courts throughout, although misunderstandings and unworthy quarrels were sometimes unavoidable. Eyffinger speaks of finding a “ proper modus vivendi”. How do you maintain a harmonious relationship with the Courts?

“I think it is important to first appreciate both the courts for their highly important role for the world. The International Court of Justice as the world court is of eminent importance as it settles interstate disputes in the courtroom. Of course, when you appreciate the Court you are also willing to support them as well as you can. If you look at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, we are well aware that we owe the Peace Palace to the fact that the Permanent Court of Arbitration was established during the Hague Peace Conferences, in order to settle (potentially) violent conflicts peacefully. We appreciate their important role as well, and want to serve them as best as we can.”

“The building has not grown; at least the monumental building itself has not grown, whereas the number of cases has grown significantly over the last decade. That is great for society as any conflict settled peacefully is good for humanity. However, the logistical challenge to facilitate the increasing number of hearings inside the monumental building is sometimes difficult for my colleagues to deal with. We are always trying to find practical solutions and common ground . We are in the process of developing better facilities for both the courts and we hope it will be appreciated.”

Mr. Erik de Baedts is the General Director of the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace and Treasurer of the Hague Academy of International Law.


  • During its 105 years of existence, many prominent figures have served the Foundation. In what way do you draw inspiration from your predecessors?

“I meet my predecessor Mr. Steven van Hoogstraten on an incidental basis. He did a great job in developing the Academy and Library building and the Visitors Centre. We are fortunate that we can now receive visitors and host public events without interfering of the activities of the Courts. It is my primary task as General Director to further enhance the Peace Palace.”

“To serve the courts and develop the facilities in order to serve all the institutions of the Peace Palace. I am also very grateful that the renowned persons on the Board of the Carnegie Foundation (with Dr. Bernard Bot as its President) have shown their continued commitment to meet more often in order to deal with the asbestos problem and the large-scale renovation project, and that they are representing the Carnegie Foundation in many meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the host country. Their commitment is a source of inspiration for me.”


  • The Carnegie Peacebuilding Conversations— a three-day conference which was held for the first time from the 24th  until 26th September of last year at the Peace Palace — was a unique event from many perspectives. It brought together representatives of the Carnegie Institutions worldwide, philanthropists, international organizations NGO’s, academics and students. An eclectic audience but all sharing the same objective: ‘Generating fresh perspectives on peacebuilding and conflict resolutions through dialogue’. How was this idea realized and in what sense has this enriched your perspective on the peace ideal?

“The Carnegie Peacebuilding Conversations was the result of good cooperation. I first learned about the impressive network of Carnegie Institutions that still exist (26 to date a hundred years after Andrew Carnegie himself passed away) when I was invited to join the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Award ceremonies, where philanthropy, giving, is being celebrated. I realized that there is a whole network that we may be able to tap into. So I threw a stone in a pond: how wonderful would it be if we come together and work on a common peace agenda? The Peace Palace is a jewel in the crown of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy. He said that it was the happiest day of his life when the Peace Palace opened its doors, thanks to his support.”

“This call resonated. I was invited to elaborate ideas. The Carnegie UK Trust and the Carnegie Foundation sat together to develop the peace agenda. We presented ideas during a meeting in New York with all the Carnegie Institutions, who agreed to support us financially and to develop the program together. In addition, we have received support from Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien, from the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Societal Alliance (MaatschappelijkeAlliantie).”

“We considered it important to tap into these private resources and to develop and launch a peace agenda together with partners. The Carnegie Institutions were very active in promoting this and it turned out to be a successful event. We want to develop this further by hosting events to foster dialogue. A similar conference on financing peace will be held in the near future. We are also trying to find philanthropic support of Dutch partners to enable us to realize the peace agenda. I am happy that it was possible to organize these dialogues, and to be more visible to the world through livestreaming, solely on the basis of external funding of our partners. So we have proven to be able to facilitate the Courts while having an extra impact to bring parties together to promote peace at the same time.”


  • Various philanthropists have attended the conference, which was also focused on exploring the options of the use of private capital and philanthropic efforts for public goals to promote peace. What was the outcome of these discussions and how do you intend to incorporate the knowledge you have gained in the Foundation’s policy plan for the future?

“While developing this project, we have received a grant of US $ 1 million dollar already from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Thanks to this grant we now have developed some capacity to elaborate on partnerships and to engage with philanthropies. A large extent of this grant was also used to enhance the automation and the digital collection of the library. We currently have a core engine to develop partnerships and to acquire further support. With these Carnegie Peace building Conversations (and also with the One Young World Summit that we hosted with the Municipality of The Hague) we now have a better profile with various funds and foundations.”

“We are for instance currently in discussion with the Lutfia Rabbani foundation on how to promote the Euro-Arab dialogue. We are also happy to work with Steve Killelea, Founder and Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace. These are all examples of partners we now liaise with. It is our intention to further provide a platform for activities promoting peace. And we can do so without exhausting any resources required to fulfill our first and foremost mission: serving the courts.”


  • During the Carnegie Peacebuilding Conversations, an official press conference was held to announce a unique initiative: The making of a “Declaration of Friendship Across Religions”, intended to foster peace. Considered by various media outlets as a unique, historical moment, the declaration aims to “counter division, hatred and intolerance between people of different religions by promoting friendship between members of diverse faiths”. Prominent religious leaders will be invited to the Peace Palace in 2020 to officially sign this declaration. Can you tell us more about this initiative and how it will contribute to the peace ideal?

“I have had the privilege of serving as chairman for the Council of Religions in Amsterdam as a volunteer and I got to know more of the source of inspiration of faiths and that in general the teachings are peaceful: how to relate peacefully to one’s neighbor, how to relate to our planet; and how to preserve our planet. I found it important to develop a peace agenda where the issue of religion could be addressed. I was happy to learn that Mark Woerde (a Dutch filmmaker) was working on a similar project entitled the “Make friends across religions” campaign, by inviting various religious leaders to share a message of friendship in front of his camera: the purpose of this project was for the religious leaders to show that it is important to relate in friendship to persons of other faiths. How wonderful would it be if they were not only on camera separately but if they can meet at the Peace Palace, the symbol of peace, to demonstrate that religious leaders from different backgrounds meet in peace.”

“Mark Woerde brought me into contact with the Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem. The Director came over to The Hague and we developed plans to organize such a meeting. But before we made an official public announcement, additional support was needed. For example, it is important that the Vatican would be supportive of such an initiative. Luckily, H.E. Mr. Aldo Cavalli, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands was supportive and we have received confirmation that the Vatican will designate an official to work with us towards such a declaration of friendship.”

“Furthermore, I felt it was important to engage with others, such as the ambassador of Egypt. In the Sunni Islam world, the Al-Azhar University in Egypt is a source of reference. The Ambassador of Egypt H.E. Mr. Amgad Abdel Ghaffar was very supportive as well. In addition, the ambassador of India, H.E. Mr. Venu Rajamony also showed his commitment to the cause. It is intended that the declaration will be signed officially in June 2020. Although it is often perceived as a reason for conflict and divide, religion to many is a source of inspiration for ethics and moral standards. By coming together and showing friendship and peaceful interaction at this symbolic place to the world, we can indeed serve as the Temple of Peace Andrew Carnegie envisaged, and play a more visible role to the world for the many who are not active ininternational law, yet long for signs of peace and hope.”


  • A similar event took place in Azerbaijan. Pope Francis attended the 6th Global Baku Forum themed “Bridging Gaps to Create Inclusive Societies” (a UN Sustainable Development Goal)*, where a number of high-level speakers shared their perspectives on dealing with global challenges as well as with the aim of building bridges among societies and promoting tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue and understanding. How do you intend to foster a similar dialogue and debate in order to “promote international peace through law”? ***

“Our chairman Dr. Bernard Bot, signed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Charter because of course; we house a UN Principal Organ, and we are at the heart of the International City of Peace and Justice. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, and notably Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong institutions is heavily supported here. We are the platform that can host dialogues to promote these SDGs. During the Carnegie Peacebuilding Conversations, the Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands recognized the Peace Palace as an “international SDG house” to promote these goals. We want to promote further dialogue on all the SDG’s asthey are intertwined. To what extent is the SDG on poverty related to the SDG on conflicts? Poverty, inequality, climate change, these are all topics that have an impact as root causes for potential conflicts. If we can address these SDG’s and work towards a better world we are also working on peace. Peace is a necessary precondition to work on these SDG’s.”


  • The Hague hosted this year’s One Young World Summit – a global forum for young leaders, similar to Davos –. The spectacular opening ceremony took place in the garden of the Peace Palace and was attended by Her Majesty Queen Maxima, Sir Bob Geldof, Hollywood actress Amber Heard, among others. One of the many large events that have taken place at the Peace Palace recently which have attracted quite some media attention. Is this part of a strategic plan to promote the Peace Palace as a global icon for peace and justice?

“In addition to this impressive line of speakers the President  of the International Court of Justice, H.E. Mr. Abdulqawi Yusuf also inspired the future leaders. The One Young World Summit was a wonderful event organized in good cooperation with the Municipality of The Hague. We are working with the municipality to explore what we can do more for the municipality. We are an icon for the world but also an icon for The Hague. It is important that The Hague and the Carnegie Foundation work together more actively.”

“However, we cannot have these events on a regular basis. It simply does not tie in well with facilitating hearings of the courts without inconveniences. But every now and then if it does not interfere with hearings, within certain conditions we may organize similar public events. The One Young World summit was an important event that has reached out to many youth in the world. Furthermore, we have the mission to support The Hague Academy of International Law that educates the future leaders of the world. Every year, somewhere between 600 to 700 students studying the field of international law visit to the Peace Palace. It’s a vibrant time at the Peace Palace when all these students are here.”

“They are going to be the future judges and the future ambassadors. I am very happy that The Hague Academy has increased its activities. In January 2019 The Hague Academy will organize winter courses for the first time. It is amazing that we will have some 300 participants during the first winter courses already. So in 2019 we will actually educate some 1.000 future international leaders, judges and ambassadors at the Palace. In addition, The Hague Academy organizes external programs in various places around the world. The Hague Academy is very important in developing our future leaders. Its mission ties in well with the One Young World Summit, and already some participants indicated that they hope to come back to the Peace Palace to study at the Hague Academy.”

“It is important to offer the inspiration to the world that peace through law is feasible and to pass that message of hope on to younger generations. Furthermore, during the Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize award ceremony we also appointed Leonardo Parraga as the first Carnegie Youth Peace Prize winner. He initiated an inspiring project promoting reconciliation in Colombia. I will be having conversations with him on a regular basis and I hope it will inspire us more.”

Mr. Erik de Baedts is the General Director of the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace and Treasurer of the Hague Academy of International Law and Diplomat Magazine’s Ms. Sheila Turabaz.

  • Lastly, how do you envision the future?

“I envisage a more peaceful world and the Peace Palace as a shining beacon in the world that is better suited to facilitate both the courts and reaching out to the public to promote peace. The institutions at the Peace Palace provide peace in action. During the Carnegie Peacebuilding Conversations, Rabbi AwrahamSoetendorp called the Peace Palace “a place of pilgrimage”, and he was right. Peace through law is feasible. The Peace Palace can contribute much more to promoting a peaceful world. The road to the courtroom instead of the battlefield is available, and it should be known much more widely, so people can call on their leaders to not invest in arms and go to war, but to go to the Peace Palace to settle their issues in peace.”

“We have the struggle of asbestos but let’s turn a challenge into an opportunity. We hope that we can renovate the Peace Palace in a way that it again accommodates the courts for many decades to come. Because peace through law is of utmost importance now and in the future. So facilitating the courts as well as possible is of utmost importance.”

“Moreover, we hope to ensure that peace education, the public events and the public dialogues can be facilitated without any inconveniences to the courts. The Host Country is doing its best to find suitable options to facilitate the courts during a renovation. We realize that temporary relocation of the courts may well be necessary and the courts are aware of that. The Peace Palace is a pearl in an oyster. We should realize that in the Peace Palace there are actual peace heroes working. The judges of the International Court of Justiceare settling huge conflicts peacefully. These judges are peace heroes. The arbiters that settle confidential issues that are not known to the world — conflicts that are really pertinent — these arbiters are peace heroes. Of course, the staff of the organizations housed in the Peace Palace also takes pride that the gardens and the Palace remain the icons that they are but I find it important that these heroes are also recognized for their important contribution to the world.”


*The risk of exposure to asbestos in the Peace Palace became eminent during a renovation in 2014, and the situation was resolved, albeit temporarily until now.

**Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919) was a Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist who donated US$1.5 million to build the Peace Palace.

***Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and transparent, effective and accountable institutions. Source: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2018-03-15/secretary-generals-video-message-6th-global-baku-forum-bridging-gaps


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