Thomas Buergenthal to Speak at This Year’s Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice


ICTJ and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law are pleased to announce that Judge Thomas Buergenthal will be the speaker of the 7th Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice. Buergenthal is one of the world’s most distinguished jurists, whose name is synonymous with human rights and international justice.

The December 12 lecture, titled “Reflections on the Landscape of Justice: From Auschwitz to The Hague” will take the form of a conversation between Buergenthal and ICTJ President David Tolbert. Together, they will explore how notions of transitional justice, including accountability, education, and rule of law, are connected to Buergenthal’s unique personal story and career.

As one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, Buergenthal became a leading advocate and pioneer of international law and has dedicated his career to protecting human rights around the world.

Buergenthal served two terms as judge at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, writing some of the most influential decisions on state responsibility for systematic human rights violations in the Americas. He served on the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador. In 2000, he was elected to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, serving for 10 years. As chair of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, he brought forward the conversation on genocide after failures to act in Bosnia and Rwanda.

He is the author of the best-selling book A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy. It is a remarkable account of how Buergenthal survived the brutality of Nazi-occupied Poland during the Holocaust through determination, wits, and luck. The book details his family’s removal to the Jewish Ghetto in Kielce, Poland; his time working in a nearby camp; his years in Auschwitz, where he is first separated from his parents; and the days-long death march from Auschwitz to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in Germany. After the war, we see Buergenthal’s surprising capacity to forgive his German neighbors and his decision to pursue international law as a profession.

“Not many children who entered Auschwitz lived to tell the tale. The American judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Czechoslovakia-born Buergenthal, is one of the few,” Publisher’s Weekly wrote about the book. “He miraculously survived, thanks, among others, to a friendly kapo who made him an errand boy. Buergenthal's authentic, moving tale reveals that his lifelong commitment to human rights sprang from the ashes of Auschwitz.”

Buergenthal will also reflect on the changing landscape of transitional justice and current challenges facing international justice institutions around the world.

The lecture will be held on Thursday, December 12, from 6:00 to 7:30pm at the Tishman Auditorium, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, New York, NY.

To reserve seats, please send a request to