International legal order

The development of international law is an integral part of the foreign policy of the Netherlands. It is enshrined in the Dutch constitution. The principle underlying this policy is that war criminals should be punished for their crimes.

Treaties as the basis of the international legal order

A strong international legal order is essential for a just, peaceful and prosperous world. This requires the laying down of norms and standards. Governments in conflict must know that they may not kill innocent civilians. Soldiers must know that they may not torture other human beings. The norms of the international legal order are laid down in various international conventions:

  • The Genocide Convention of 1948;
  • The Geneva Conventions of 1949 on international humanitarian law in armed conflicts. 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) and tribunals

There is little point in establishing international legal norms unless they are also enforced. In war, soldiers and civilians do not always observe international norms. By prosecuting them in a court of law they can be held accountable for their actions.

  • The International Criminal Court in The Hague prosecutes war criminals from all over the world.
  • Various tribunals prosecute war criminals from specific armed conflicts. For instance the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is responsible for tracking down and prosecuting war criminals from the Balkan conflicts. More information about these special courts can be found under international tribunals.

Differences between the ICC and the tribunals

The permanent International Criminal Court was established in 2002 and has a number of advantages in comparison with the tribunals.

  • The political process leading to the establishment of a tribunal tends to be lengthy and complicated. Sound ideas and plans are apt to flounder at this stage.
  • A tribunal is an organ of the United Nations Security Council that receives official funding. This makes it a political instrument. The disadvantage is that tribunals can be accused of making politically motivated decisions.
  • Tribunals have limited jurisdiction.

A number of tribunals will be dissolved in the next few years. Their administrative tasks will be taken over by the International Criminal Court, which will also review judgments, if necessary. Future cases will be heard mainly by the International Criminal Court instead of a special tribunal.

The role of the Netherlands in the international legal order

The Netherlands plays a special role in the international legal order. Home to a large number of international legal organisations such as the International Criminal Court and the ICTY, The Hague is known as the legal capital of the world.

Besides the various courts of justice, The Hague also hosts the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The OPCW is responsible for monitoring compliance with the ban on chemical weapons and their destruction. The organisation was established by the United Nations in 1993.