BUERGENTHAL, THOMAS (1934– ), judge on the International Court of Justice since 2000. Born in Lubochna, Slovakia, to Menachem (Mundek) and Gerda Buergenthal (Silbergleit), he came to the United States in 1951 and was naturalized in 1957. At age nine, he was one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz (Aug. 1944–Jan. 1945), including a death march from the camp, and Sachsenhausen (Feb. 1945–Apr. 1945). Prior to that, he had survived the *Kielce ghetto in Poland and various labor camps in the Kielce region.
In the United States Buergenthal was taken in by his aunt and uncle and despite having just two and a half years of schooling in Germany before the war and about a year of high school in New Jersey, he was accepted on a scholarship by Bethany, a Christian college in West Virginia. Buergenthal completed his courses at Bethany and went on to become a distinguished professor of law, dean of American University's School of Law, and one of the nation's leading authorities on human rights.
Buergenthal held endowed professorships in international law and human rights at various U.S. law schools. He was the Fulbright & Jaworski Professor of Law at the University of Texas (1975–80), the I.T. Cohen Professor at Emory University (1985–89), and the Lobingier Professor at the George Washington University (1989–2000). He served as dean and professor of international law of the American University's College of Law, Washington, d.c. (1980–85).
Buergenthal served as judge (1979–91), vice president (1983–85), and president (1985–87) of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States. He was nominated to the court by Costa Rica. He is the only U.S. citizen to date to be elected to that court. (The U.S., not being a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, is not in a position to nominate its citizens to the court.) Buergenthal also served as judge of the Administrative Tribunal of the Inter-American Development Bank (1989–94) and as its president (1993–94). He was an arbitrator (1997–2000) and vice chairman (1999–2000) of the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland.
As a member of the United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador (1992–93), Buergenthal helped investigate the large-scale violations of human rights committed in that country during its lengthy civil war. In 1995, Buergenthal became the first U.S. citizen to be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He resigned from the committee in 1999 in order to assume the vice chairmanship of the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland, a position he had to relinquish when he was elected to the International Court of Justice. His was the lone dissent in the 2004 icj vote against Israel's erection of a fence/wall separating Israeli and Palestinian territories, insisting that the context of terror and suicide bombers must be considered.
Between 1974 and 1978, Buergenthal represented the United States in various unesco bodies dealing with human rights issues. In that capacity he helped, inter alia, to draft the UNESCO Recommendation on International Education and Human Rights (1974). He was the chief U.S. representative to the UNESCO working group (1976–78) that drafted the UNESCO procedures for dealing with human rights complaints, and was one of its principal drafters. Similarly, as a member of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 Human Dimension Meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, Buergenthal helped draft the "rule of law" section of the 1990 Copenhagen Declaration on the Human Dimension.
[Jeanette Friedman (2nd ed.)]