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At the age of just 27, Ben Ferencz served as the Chief Prosecutor for the United States in the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of a series of military tribunals for war crimes and crimes against humanity held in Nuremberg following the Second World War. Dubbed “the biggest murder trial in history,” it saw 22 defendants from the Nazi SS charged with murdering over a million people. It was Ferencz’s first case.
The Nuremberg Tribunals helped to set the legal precedent that established the International Criminal Court many years later, and the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted on December 9, 1948. The next day, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Almost eight decades on, there are still lessons to be learned from the Nuremberg Tribunals. How did they influence the development of international humanitarian law, including the structure of the International Criminal Court? And does the international community now have the tools to prevent such atrocities from happening again?
Join us for our final edition of The World Today this semester, where we will host Ben Ferencz in conversation with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Perry World House Professor of Practice of Law and Human Rights and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For more background, watch Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz, a 2019 documentary profiling Ben Ferencz and his impact on international law.
Sign up for this virtual event, and details of how to take part will be in your order confirmation email.
Ben Ferencz, born in Transylvania in 1920, attended public schools in New York. He won a scholarship to Harvard Law School where he worked as a researcher for a professor doing a book on war crimes. He received his degree in 1943 and promptly joined the US army as a private in the artillery. He was awarded five battle stars for not being killed or wounded at Normandy Beach and every major campaign in Europe. As the war was ending, he was transferred to General Patton's HQ to serve as a war crimes investigator. He entered many Nazi concentration camps as they were liberated. The horrors made an indelible impression. He returned home and was promptly recruited by General Telford Taylor to return to Germany to help in the additional war crimes trials. He was appointed Chief Prosecutor in what was aptly described as the biggest murder trial in history—the “Einsatzgruppen case.” All 22 defendants, including six SS Generals, were convicted of murdering over a million innocent men, women and children. 13 defendants were sentenced to death. Ferencz was then 27 years old and it was his first case. Almost all of his life since then has been spent trying to obtain compensation for victims and trying to prevent illegal war-making. He became a self-appointed personal lobbyist for peace, with countless lectures, publications and speeches in many universities and countries.
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018. He previously served as Jordan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was Jordan's Ambassador to the United States, and represented Jordan before the International Court of Justice, as well as on the issue of nuclear security. Al Hussein played a key role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), chairing the negotiations over the elements of individual offences amounting to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In September 2002, he was elected as the first President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC. He has extensive knowledge of peacekeeping, serving as a political affairs officer in UNPROFOR, in the former Yugoslavia (1994-1996). Al Hussein holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. In academic year 2018-19, he was Perry World House's Distinguished Global Leader-in-Residence.