Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 16: Bevorder vreedzame en inclusieve samenlevingen met het oog op duurzame ontwikkeling, verzeker toegang tot justitie voor iedereen en bouw op alle niveaus doeltreffende, verantwoordelijke en toegankelijke instellingen uit 

The levelling of the global economic playing field and the increasing interconnectivity of societies and people worldwide in practically all areas of life – globalization – is overwhelmingly a matter of private initiative. The development of global production chains and markets, mobility of people, goods, services and capital and instant sharing of information worldwide are not primarily the result of actions of governments but of their citizens. 

Since laws differ from country to country, however, transnational transactions and relationships increasingly meet with legal obstacles to the unfolding of rightful private and commercial relations. Those hurdles frustrate people’s expectations, disperse families over different countries, lead to limping relationships (“married in one country, divorced in another”), cause discrimination, block access to justice, leave weaker parties unprotected, deprive people of legal means to contest cross-border environmental damage, etc. Therefore, supporting the rule of law and justice in transnational private relationships and transactions is essential to promoting peace and justice in the world.  

The Netherlands has a very special role, indeed responsibility, in this regard. It is the cradle of a unique set of global tools (“Hague Conventions”) addressing these issues, carefully negotiated at the Peace Palace by the world’s leading experts, and also the home of the leading global institution producing and servicing these instruments (”The Hague Conference on Private International Law). The Hague Conventions permit us to navigate the wide variety of differing laws. Many of them also create institutions and international cooperation machinery – to protect children, including migrant and adopted children, and victims of abduction by one of their parents, as well as the elderly and disabled adults. Moreover, they ensure the recognition of parental relationships, marriages and divorces, facilitate the recovery of maintenance (including child support), and provide access to justice abroad. 

However, much more can and should be done to promote awareness, use and effectiveness of the Hague Conventions, e.g., in the following areas:
A. International child protection
(1) Four modern Hague Conventions provide cross-border cooperation mechanisms that give nuts and bolts to the almost universally ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (196 States parties). (i) The 1980 Child Abduction Convention links 97 States; so, a roughly equal number of States, including China and India, and many States in Africa, are still not bound by it, which may block the return of abducted children. (ii) Likewise, the 1993 Inter-country Adoption Convention is in force for 98 States, which leaves children in many countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, without much needed protection against exploitation and abuse. And in those developing countries of origin of adopted children bound by the Convention, efforts should be stepped up dramatically to improve the child care infrastructure needed to enable children to remain in the care of their family of origin, or find a family in their home country. (iii) The 1996 Child Protection Convention provides legal stability to families moving across borders, and protects unaccompanied minors, whether refugees, asylum seekers, displaced children, or teenage runaways. As a basic tool to protect children it should be embraced by all States, and yet, at this point, less than fifty States are bound by it. (iv) The 2007 Support Convention, which facilitates the recovery of maintenance abroad, has the potential to raise the living standard of countless children and families, and should be rapidly ratified by all States.

B. International protection of vulnerable adults
The globally ratified 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (174 States parties) seeks to ensure the rights of disabled people to equal recognition before the law, access to justice, living independently and being included in the community, etc. While the 1996 Hague Convention protects disabled children in cross-border situations, the 2000 Protection of Adults Convention does so for vulnerable adults. It gives effect to protective measures taken abroad, including powers of anyone having charge of the adult’s person or property. With aging and more mobile populations around the globe, the 2000 Convention, with the 1996 Convention, should be universally promoted and implemented in tandem with the UN Convention.

C. International access to Justice:
Access to justice is a fundamental right, guaranteed by many global and regional human rights treaties, and it does not stop at State borders. Civil and commercial proceedings increasingly extend to other jurisdictions, because parties or witnesses may move or reside there, or the issues concern multiple States. The 1980 Access to Justice Convention ensures equal treatment of foreigners in respect of legal aid, legal advice, financial requirements for starting proceedings, and provides for mechanisms so that people can access to justice even from abroad where they live. This Convention, if more widely embraced, and its Sister Conventions on Service of Documents and Taking of Evidence Abroad, could benefit countless people in cross-border situations. 

There is huge, undiscovered potential in the Hague Conventions on private international law to promote peace and justice in transnational situations. The Netherlands is in a unique position to take the lead in releasing this potential for the benefit of the global community.

Hans van Loon

Hans van Loon

Born Utrecht, the Netherlands, 15 April 1948, studies of law and sociology at the University of Utrecht, international law and international relations at the University of Leyden and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

Practiced law before the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (1974-1978) and acted before the European Commission and Court of Human Rights.

Hon.Secretary (1977-1986) and Member (1977 -1992) Executive Board of the Royal Netherlands Association for International Law. Member of the ILA (since 1976). 

Secretary (1978-1996) of the Netherlands Standing Government Committee for the Codification of Private International Law. 

Deputy judge District Court The Hague (1984-1996).

Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (1996 –2013), after having joined its secretariat (Permanent Bureau) in 1978. Contributed to the development of over a dozen global multilateral treaties (Conventions) within the Conference.

Elected member of the Institut de Droit International (since 2009).

Elected member of the European Group on Private International Law (since 1991).

Honorary member of the Asociación Americana de Derecho Internacional Privado (since 2007).

Has lectured at the Hague Academy of International Law (1993, 2015), its seminar for advanced studies (2012) and external programmes 1995, 2010), the Xiamen Academy of International law, the Organisation of American States Course on International Law (2005), and other academic institutions worldwide.

Expert-consultant to several Governments and international organisations (UNICEF; UNHCR), concerning international legal cooperation, in particular on the implementation of Hague Conventions.

Has widely published on various topics of (private) international law.

Doctor honoris causa, University of Osnabrück, Germany (2001).