Born: 1934, Lubochna, Czechoslovakia
Describes operations of international tribunals [Interview: 2005]
First of all to answer the question about how international tribunals decide whom to try, especially international criminal tribunals, I think the easy answer is of course they try to get the ones most responsible. But they're not always easy to get, and we see this of course in the former Yugoslavia. They go into hiding or the governments refuse or try not to extradite them. So that's the first approach. The second point is that international tribunals really cannot try everybody responsible for large-scale violations of international criminal law. It's simply impossible. I remember right after Rwanda -- the genocide in Rwanda -- I was asked by a Rwandan delegation how to go about establishing an international criminal court, and I said, "Well how many people are you thinking of trying?" and they said "Well at least a hundred thousand." I just couldn't believe it because you can't ... in an international court the thought that you would be able to try a hundred thousand criminal defendants is just, it boggles the mind, it's just impossible. You have to have a small, at most a group of 30, 40 people, if you don't want to be trying them for 40, 50 years, assuming you're prepared to do everything by applying due process of law, rules, etc. etc. So the second limit, the second restraint on international criminal tribunals in terms of selecting whom they're going to try is simply the fact that they cannot try everybody. And so they try to try those who have committed serious crimes and who also in many ways symbolize some of the offenses that have been committed. They don't always succeed. They manage to get hold of some and not of others, and it's sometimes catch as catch can as we see in both of these tribunals.
Now an international judge, Thomas Buergenthal was one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 17. He has served as judge and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and as a member of the United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador. Buergenthal was chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience. Buergenthal became a member of the International Court of Justice in March 2000, a seat he still occupies.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum