Many people know that the capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, the beautiful old world city famous for its canals, museums, tulip gardens and 17th century architecture. Then again, many people have also heard of The Hague in reference to international politics and the United Nations (UN), but most have no idea where The Hague might actually be other than somewhere in Western Europe. And most certainly have no idea what or who The Hague might consist of, with many people assuming it might be some sort of international courtroom.
The Hague is not an international courtroom, but the description is not far off the mark. The Hague grew from a residence to a palace in the 13th century when various Dutch counts began using it as an administrative center. Today, The Hague is home to half a million people and follows Amsterdam and Rotterdam as the third largest city in the Netherlands. It is also the capital city of the province of South Holland.
The reason so many people today have heard of The Hague is probably due to the fact that the city hosts both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. The Hague is also the site of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where war crimes trials have frequently made the news. Because The Hague had been in continual use as an administrative center since the late 1200’s, it was designated as an official international city of peace and justice in 1899, the same year the world's first Peace Conference was held there.
The Hague hosted the Permanent Court of International Justice for the League of Nations following World War I. When the United Nations took over after the Second World War, The Hague became the site of the U.N.'s International Court of Justice. In the 80’s and 90’s The Hague solidified its reputation as an international legal center with the establishment of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in the city as well as hosting the International Criminal Court there too.
The city now serves both domestic and international political issues and the list of international organizations operating there has grown to well over 150. The Hague is now the fourth largest United Nations headquarters hosting city behind New York, Geneva and Vienna. Although Amsterdam is the official capital of the Netherlands, one might be tempted to think The Hague is the capital since it is where the Dutch government and parliament, the Dutch Supreme Court, and the Dutch Council of State are all located. All of the foreign embassy offices in the Netherlands are located in The Hague too. Even if Amsterdam is the official capital of the country, it is often overshadowed by the political aspects of The Hague’s growing reputation as the Legal Capital of the World and an International City of Peace and Justice.