Captivating over 200 students and members of faculty in a filled lecture theatre at the Oxford Faculty of Law, former Nuremberg chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz shared his incredible story with ICCSN guests this week. With a career as long as his speech was powerful, Mr Ferencz led the group through his early career, regaling them with gripping stories of his wartime roles and the subsequent Nuremberg trials for almost an hour. When recalling his 93 years he joked “but that’s quite enough of that”, moving with gusto through topics as diverse as simultaneous translations and the threat of cyber-warfare during his reflections on the progress of international law. Benjamin Ferencz was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and guests at the event remarked that to have him speak in Oxford was a real honour.
Mr Ferencz, an immigrant to the USA from Transylvania, entered the world of law with a scholarship to Harvard, followed by military service. “In their wisdom, and having perceived my academic skills,” Benjamin remarked, “the Army stuck me in an artillery brigade.” His dry wit continued throughout the presentation, during which he moved on to discuss his wife – who he brought to Nuremberg for their ‘honeymoon’ – and his family. Mr Ferencz’s son, Don, was also present at the event, and the father-and-son duo now represent a formidable force in the fight for world peace.
While Benjamin’s legal career bloomed at Nuremberg – he recalled his first case there aged 27 – it was his experience of the Second World War as a whole that shaped his vision and life. He now campaigns for the replacement of “war with law”, passionately advocating to the busy theatre the manner in which international legal mechanisms, however imperfect, will always provide a preferable outcome to conflict. Giving talks all over the world and being able to discuss his views in depth with top military and legal staffers thanks to his postings with the Pentagon, the US military and in the international public law sphere, Benjamin offered – only partially in jest – “the solution to the world’s problems”.
Don Ferencz, joining his father onstage for a question-and-answer session in which the effects of punishment and the ethics of how to sentence war criminals were discussed, is equally prominent in the area of international law. He currently leads the Global Campaign for the Prevention of Aggression, an ICCSN-backed campaign for the ratification of Rome Statute amendments that would give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over this crime. Don has worked closely with the ICCSN over the past year, and his vision to criminalise unauthorised use of force against other countries in this way marries well with his father’s continued quest to develop world peace.
The first International Criminal Court Student Network event of the year in Oxford, Mr Ferencz’s visit marked a huge success for the Chapter, one which its committee hope to build on with events throughout the year. They will be hosting the Deputy Prosecutor to the ICC, James Stewart, this Saturday, to continue the discussion on securing peace through international justice.
Benjamin Ferencz with his son Don Ferencz.