The United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council elected GW law professor Thomas Buergenthal to the International Court of Justice March 3.
The International Court of Justice, which is comprised of 15 judges who serve nine-year terms, has a two-fold purpose: it settles legal disputes submitted by countries and serves as an advisory body on legal questions referred by authorized international organizations and agencies.
The judges must possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices, or be jurists of recognized competence in international law, according to the mandate of the ICJ.
Buergenthal fits both criteria. He holds seven degrees, including two honorary doctorates. He served as judge on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights from 1979 to 1991 and served as the court’s president in the mid-1980s. He also served as a member of the U.N. Truth Committee for El Salvador in 1992 and 1993.
Buergenthal is an internationally recognized expert in international human rights law. He has authored more than a dozen books and numerous articles on public international law, international human rights, the law of international organizations and comparative law. Buergenthal joined the GW faculty in 1988 and directed the GW International and Comparative Law Program.
This is a singular and richly deserved honor, and the capstone to an extraordinary career in international law, GW Law School Dean Michael K. Young said. Tom’s appointment brings great luster to the (ICJ), honor to the United States and immense satisfaction to us all.
Buergenthal has been on leave from GW since the fall, serving as the vice-chairman of the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland. Czech-born Buergenthal said he immigrated to the United States in 1951 following a harrowing childhood – he is one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen prison camps during World War II.
Professor Ralph Steinhardt, who took over as director of GW’s International and Comparative Law Program, said Buergenthal has used his experiences to improve the lives of others.
No one in the world is more deserving of this award, he said. (Buergenthal) is a consummate teacher, lawyer, judge and survivor. He more than anyone understands the value of international law, due to his experiences as a young person.
In his new position, Buergenthal will hear the Croatian case against Yugoslavia for the crime of genocide. This case is one of the 24 currently pending for judgement by the ICJ.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he has great faith in Buergenthal and his representation of both GW and the United States on the ICJ.
Thomas Buergenthal is one of the pre-eminent champions of human rights, a role that he has embraced with compassion, courage and dedication, Trachtenberg said. We are very pleased with this appointment and know that (Buergenthal) will serve the International Court of Justice with great distinction.