Judge Buergenthal Calls on Human Rights Education at 2018 Stockholm Human Rights Award Ceremony

Judge Thomas Buergenthal speaking at 2018 Stockholm Human Rights Award © Tomas Knutson

The 10th Stockholm Human Rights Award honoured judge and professor of law Thomas Buergenthal at a ceremony held in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 20. Having devoted his career to the protection, promotion and teaching of human rights and international law, judge Buergenthal highlighted the importance of a comprehensive and intelligent nationwide programme on human rights education as the solution to defeat endemic human rights violations.   

   In my opinion, the root cause of endemic human rights violation in many parts of the world is to be found in the failure of parents, schools, religious institutions and universities to establish nationwide programmes that are designed to create a political climate that advocates respect and tolerance for all human beings, he said.

Bestowed annually by the Swedish Bar Association, the International Bar Association and ILAC, the Stockholm Human Rights Award recognises outstanding work done in advancing international justice, contributions to democracy based on the rule of law, and for strengthening respect for, and protecting and promoting, human rights.

In his prize acceptance speech, judge Buergenthal noted that:

   As an international lawyer, I can think of no greater honour than to be deemed worthy of receiving this award and that is because it is conferred jointly by a group of distinguished lawyers’ associations committed to human rights.

Judge Buergenthal’s long and distinguished career as an international jurist was shaped early on by his experiences as a survivor of the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. An international jurist and professor for more than 50 years, his judgeships include the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador, the International Court of Justice. He has held many professorships and academic positions, including his present position at The George Washington University Law School.  An author of numerous articles on international law and human rights, Judge Buergenthal has written more than a dozen books, including his memoir A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy.

Opening the ceremony, Ms Anne Ramberg, Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, emphasised the importance of having transparent and effective institutions in order to ensure that democracy will not be used as a tool to undermine the rule of law and the respect for human rights.

Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director of IBA, held the Q&A session with judge Buergenthal and discussedcurrent issues, including immigration, discrimination, and the collapse of civic space in European countries.

Thomas Buergenthal expressed strong frustration over the development of his homeland United States, where respect for human dignity, the rule of law and free media is now being questioned. However, he expressed his hope that Americans break this trend, and concluded “in terms of my life, if I wouldn’t be an optimist, who should be?”

Judge Buergenthal received the 2018 Stockholm Human Rights Award on Tuesday 20 November 2018 at Berwaldhallen, Dag Hammarskjölds väg 3, Stockholm, Sweden.

Watch ceremony’s short trailer:

©Micke Lundström

Past recipients of the Stockholm Human Rights Award: