Geneva, 31 May 2023

Dear Confrères, dear Consoeurs,

It is with deep sadness that I have to inform you of the passing of our confrère Thomas Buergenthal on 29 May 2023.

Born on 11 May 1934 in Czechoslavakia, Tom Buergenthal survived the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps as a child, and was liberated from Sachsenhausen in 1945. After having spent time in a Polish orphanage for children, he was reunited with his mother in Germany two years lates. His father had not survived the camp.

In 1951 he moved to the United States, where he graduated as Bethany College, completed a JD at the New York University Law School and an LLM and SJD in international law at Harvard Law School. He then started his academic career, including as Professor at the University of Texas, Emory University and as Dean of Washington College of Law at American University. In 1989, he joined the George Washington University Law School where he became the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence.

Confrère Buergenthal served as a judge (1979-1991) and President (1985-1987) of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Development Bank Administrative Tribunal (1989-1994), and the International Court of Justice (2000-2010). He also served on the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador and was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.

He has published many articles and books on international law, particularly in the field of human rights. His memoir A Lucky Child in which he describes his experience in the concentration camps is a poignant text and at the same time bringer of hope in the context of the tragedy that the world has experienced in the last century.

Confrère Buergenthal was elected to the Institute in 2007, during the session of Santiago and he participated in the session in Tokyo (2013) and Tallinn (2015). He has been a member of the Commission on Piracy.

His work, his deep attachment to the cause of human rights, his independence, his modesty and the serenity that he transmitted to all those who had the chance to meet him, is a legacy that will remain in our memories forever.

We extend our condolences to his wife Peggy and family, members of the US National Group, as well as his numerous friends and colleagues.


Prof. Marcelo Kohen



For those willing to send a message to the family, the following link has been provided:

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