During the Public Law Session of the Hague Academy, students from Colombia, South-Korea, Bulgaria, Brazil, Greece, India, Mexico, Jordan, Australia and Hungary had the opportunity to pay a visit to the illustrious Hugo Grotius Collection of the Peace Palace Library. The Peace Palace Library holds the largest Hugo Grotius Collection in the world. It’s considered one of the most important collections which are housed by the Peace Palace Library as the works of Grotius play a major role in the study of the history of international law.
When we presented the Academy students with the opportunity to go on a special tour to the Library Stacks where the Grotius Collection is located, we were delighted to find out that many students expressed an interest in taking a closer look at these treasures of international law.
As soon as Mr. Jeroen Vervliet, the Head-Librarian, presented the students with some rare copies a lively discussion ensued. The students wondered whether the legal theories by Grotius were, at the time of publication, only confined to the context of European states. Subsequently, they discussed to what extent the ideas of international law are still Eurocentric and how they were transferred to the rest of the world.
In addition, Mr. Vervliet briefly explained the circumstances that motivated Grotius to write his Magnum Opus, Mare Liberum (1609) or ‘the freedom of the seas’ in which he argued that the sea was free to all and that every nation is free to use the sea for seafaring trade and that nobody has the right to deny others access to this.
Naturally, the just war theory and illegal war concept as set forth by Grotius in ‘De Jure Belli ac Pacis’ (1625) or On the Law of War and Peace were also discussed in addition to his personal life, religious beliefs, his time in prison as well as his life in exile in France.
Today, the theories of Grotius are not only part of international law but they also influenced the development of South African law and until recently the former Ceylon or Sri Lanka. When the presentation was almost over, students expressed their appreciation for being given the opportunity to see and hold actual works by a legal scholar they’d spent many hours studying and discussing during their time at University.
Both tours ended with a group photo in the old and antique book room.