For years, China has made expansive claims to the resource-rich South China Sea, despite
opposition from much of Southeast Asia.
In July 2016, an international tribunal in the Hague categorically rejected China’s
claims, saying there was no historical evidence for its exclusive control of the waters.
China’ state news agency called the ruling “null and void” as the Hague has “no
So what exactly is the Hague?
And how much power does it really have?
Well, The Hague is the third largest city in the Netherlands and is the country’s
seat of government.
But the Hague is better known as the “judicial capital of the world”, as the city is home
to around 160 international organizations.
These include the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, the International Criminal Court and
the Carnegie Foundation.
Many countries also have foreign embassies in the Hague, and it is one of the main hosts
of the United Nations, along with Geneva, Vienna and New York.
The Hague has been important to the Netherland’s for more than 200 years, however it didn’t
become a global hub until the late 19th century.
In 1899, Russian Czar Nicholas II called for an international meeting on peace and disarmament,
fearing neighboring aggressions.
26 countries met in the Hague to draft some of the first international treaties on war,
and created the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which was the world’s first panel for settling
A second convention was held 8 years later under the request of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Over the next century, a number of other panels and organizations emerged in the Hague.
Today, the city houses organizations for ostensibly all international legal issues, including
cross border crime, corruption, environmental violations, human rights abuses, as well as
land and maritime disputes.
For instance the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been coercing nations
to destroy their illegal chemical weapons for nearly two decades.
In 2013, the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for facilitating the destruction of
But other initiatives have seen less success.
For instance the International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for Sudan’s
President, for his alleged involvement in war crimes, human rights violations and genocide
between 2003 and 2008.
However, because the ICC depends on cooperation from the Sudanese government, the President
remains at large.
This is perhaps the largest hurdle for the Hague.
Although they have thus far been successful in drafting a set of international norms based
on universal values, and at compelling member states to sign on to those norms, they have
not quite figured out how to enforce them.
As brutal leaders and aggressive governments continue to shed light on the shortcomings
of international law, the Hague remains more of a symbol
of peace than justice.