R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22, 2517 JN, The Hague
The Dutch lawyer Tobias Asser received the Nobel Peace Prize (1911) for the first building block of the system of The Hague, the Conference on Private International Law. In his view peace is closely connected with the protection of civil rights.
“When the omens are not misleading, one of the dreams of my youth is just underway to become reality.”
– Tobias Asser
Tobias Michael Carel Asser (1838-1913) was raised in a family of prominent lawyers. His great-grandfather Mozes Samuel Asser and grandfather Carel Asser had been leaders of the Jewish civil rights movement at the end of the 18th century. Members of the Asser family worked on civil law reforms, as scholars, government advisors, judges and practitioners. Tobias Asser, who started his career as a 24 year old professor of law at Amsterdam University, continued this family tradition on international platforms.
After the Franco-German war (1870-71), Asser co-founded with a group of prominent lawyers the Institute of International Law in 1872, as a ‘collective scientific action for peace and justice’. Independent from state interests, these lawyers worked on building international legal consensus in three directions: peaceful conflict resolution, humanitarian law of war, and private international law (Asser’s preferred field). A source of inspiration was the first chairman of the Institute, the Torino lawyer and diplomat Pasquale Mancini, who put forward the principle that states have an obligation to protect civil rights across national borders.
The crown upon Asser’s work was the creation of the Conference on Private International Law in The Hague in 1893, followed by a range of conventions for settling differences between national civil laws. This conference served as a model for the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907. With his colleagues of the institute, Asser devised the procedures of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and served as the first international arbitrator. Until his death in 1913, he worked for strengthening international legal relations between states and citizens as the ‘long but surest way’ to a more peaceful world.
It is possible to say that Asser received the Nobel Peace Prize twice: in 1904, as a founding member of the Institute of International Law, and in 1911 personally (shared with the Austrian pacifist Alfred H. Fried). He spent part of the prize money for donating a book collection to the planned Hague Academy of International Law, putting his hope in future generations of international lawyers and diplomats. In this spirit, the T.M.C. Asser Institute is continuing to realize his youth dream.