Oral History

Thomas Buergenthal describes international tribunals

Judge Thomas Buergenthal was one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 17. Judge Buergenthal has devoted his life to international and human rights law. A former chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, he is currently the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at the George Washington University Law School and served for a decade as the American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He served as a judge and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and of the Administrative Tribunal of the Inter-American Development Bank, and was the first US national to be elected to the UN Human Rights Committee, a member of the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador, and vice chairman of the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland. With a unique perspective shaped by his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and international jurist, Judge Buergenthal has taught at several leading law schools and written more than a dozen books and numerous articles on international law and human rights.


The difference between Nuremberg and the ICC [International Criminal Court] of course, or the ICTY (the Yugoslav tribunal), is that the Nuremberg tribunal of course was a tribunal that consisted of judges drawn from the four victor countries and it was established by them, whereas these tribunals -- the Yugoslav tribunal and the Rwanda tribunal -- have been established by the Security Council. And the ICC has been established by treaty and the judges come from all parts of the world. That's progress, and in a sense it shows that it's not only one group of the international community but the entire international community which has an interest in these institutions and has a part in it.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum

This content is available in the following languages

Thank you for supporting our work

We would like to thank The Crown and Goodman Family and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.