Born: 1934, Lubochna, Czechoslovakia
Describes differing perspectives on international justice [Interview: 2005]
I'm always fascinated by the fact that in the United States we look at international justice very differently from the way international justice is looked upon in other countries. In other countries, international justice is often looked upon as the best justice that can be obtained following say a terrible civil war or terrible dictatorship, because there is a sense that there's no domestic mechanism that is legitimate enough or credible enough to address all of the crimes that were committed. So for example truth commissions as one example of institutions that are established, or ad hoc tribunals. In the United States on the other hand we have, with some justice, great faith in our judicial institutions and we look with great suspicion on judicial institutions, international ones, which are not home grown, that is to say, they don't have only American judges on them. That's an interesting philosophical distinction which produces also some of the difficulties that the U.S. has with international criminal tribunals, and while in the U.S. we don't understand why other countries are such strong supporters of international tribunals, or for that matter international human rights institutions, to many countries international justice is really critically important for them to have a sense that what they've experienced and what they might experience will be addressed properly and impartially by an international body. They don't have that faith in their domestic institutions.
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