April 18, 2017
“We have the unique honor of being able to stand alongside a luminary in the field of international justice—someone who has given voice to the voiceless—to carry on his legacy of replacing the rule of force with the rule of law.”
—Sara J. Bloomfield, welcoming Ben Ferencz
On April 14, the Simon-Skjodt Center launched the Ferencz International Justice Initiative, a new effort by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to prevent atrocities by promoting justice and accountability. The launch event was part of the American Society of International Law’s annual meeting, which brings together hundreds of legal scholars and practitioners from across the world.
A standing-room only crowd gathered to hear experts in international law reflect on the work of Ben Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, and reflect on the work yet to be done in order to make justice a reality for victims of atrocity crimes. Museum director Sara J. Bloomfield introduced the speakers, underscoring the importance of promoting accountability for atrocities worldwide and the special role the Museum can play in achieving justice and recognition for victims of such crimes.
Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, spoke powerfully about Ben Ferencz’s legacy of fighting for justice and the long-term impact he has had on the field of international criminal law.
“The International Criminal Court is a critical pillar of the evolving international criminal justice system, but it is not a panacea. To close the impunity gap globally, there is a fundamental role to play by a myriad of international, regional, state and local actors. This is why the Ben Ferencz International Justice Initiative is so crucial. It is thanks to such important grassroots, well-constructed efforts that we can hope to continue to answer, in Ben’s eloquent words, “the plea of humanity to law.” In the footsteps of our legendary friend, Ben, the Initiative housed at the Holocaust Museum and in partnership with it, will continue his tireless work by honouring the principles for which he has fought so valiantly and unshakably all his life: raising awareness about the evils of atrocity crimes, educating successive generations about the horrors of war and conflict; advocating for accountability and strengthening efforts to end impunity for atrocity crimes with the hope of deterring future atrocities—stressing the centrality of victims in all their work.”
—Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court
Ben Ferencz relayed life experiences from his 70 years of work to advance justice—stories that continue to inspire new generations who are moved to action by his courage and tenacity in the fight for accountability, starting with his hallmark trial of Einsatzgruppen leaders following the Holocaust.
The trial, which resulted in the convictions of 22 Nazi perpetrators, was his first as a young prosecutor. He described his pursuit of justice for the world’s worst crimes in the seven decades since that trial, and urged the audience to dedicate themselves to this increasingly important goal.
Mr. Ferencz has secured his investment in genocide prevention by partnering with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center to establish the Ferencz International Justice Initiative, entrusting the Center to continue his lifelong work of promoting justice and accountability for mass atrocities. The Center will ensure the Ferencz International Justice Initiative will build upon Mr. Ferencz’s laudable successes by fostering research, policy outreach, and education to empower the victims and their representatives to create a global environment conducive to the pursuit of justice, and to help survivors become successful agents for change.
The Initiative will work to encourage governments and international institutions to support meaningful accountability mechanisms, and that victims and their representatives can meaningfully participate in those justice process. As Mr. Ferencz noted in his remarks at the opening event, the Initiative can draw upon the great work that has moved the international justice field forward in the past several decades. He challenged the Initiative to continue this momentum and press for accountability mechanisms and policies that would, in the end, prevent atrocities from happening in the future.