Nuremberg Academy Lectures: Lecture by Philippe Sands on ‘International Justice and Personal Stories’


The Nuremberg Academy launched a new event series marking the 70th anniversary of the formulation of the Nuremberg Principles in 2020: The Nuremberg Academy Lectures. Professor Philippe Sands QC, world-renowned human rights lawyer and author, delivered the inaugural lecture titled ‘International Justice and Personal Stories: From East West Street to The Ratline and Beyond’ on 24 November 2020. The lecture was followed by a discussion moderated by Dr. Viviane Dittrich, Deputy Director of the Nuremberg Academy. The event was held as a Zoom webinar.

In his lecture, Professor Sands provided a lucid account of the importance of personal stories and public understanding the multiplicity of narratives in international justice beyond the purely legal proceedings. In light of the development of modern international criminal law, he emphasised the ongoing relevance of the Nuremberg trials and the origins of the concepts of crimes against humanity and genocide. In particular, Professor Sands reflected on his personal interactions with two essential characters in his writings and the documentary A Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did: Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, the sons of Hans Frank and Otto von Wächter, respectively. The lecture also explored the unintended consequences of international justice as well as the impacts on individuals, and beyond the perpetrators and victims, on their families and the wider communities.

In the course of the discussion with Dr. Dittrich, the connection between ‘memory and the shadow of responsibility’ and the role of individuals and personal stories as well as the impact of international criminal proceedings outside the courtroom were the main topics. In the Q&A session questions from the audience were answered, inter alia on the deterrent effect of international criminal courts and tribunals, the relevance of crimes against humanity and genocide in light of current atrocities committed for example in the Myanmar situation, as well as State cooperation and compliance with international obligations and the recent sanctions imposed by the United States on officials of the International Criminal Court. Professor Sands also spoke more about his own research and ethical issues and limits when probing the personal in international justice. Importantly, Professor Sands highlighted the need to broaden the conversation about law and responsibility beyond lawyers and legal experts and closed the event sharing his aspirations for international criminal justice as a multi-century project in which new generations are essential.

Professor Philippe Sands is a British-French human rights lawyer, Professor of Law at University College London and author of seventeen books on international law. He has appeared before many international courts, including, inter alia, the European Court of Justice, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. His book East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity has been widely acclaimed and has been awarded numerous prizes. The second book in his trilogy, The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive continues his research about personal stories and their intertwining with international justice, particularly during and after the Nuremberg Trials.

The event was recorded, and the video is available on the Nuremberg Academy YouTube channel.

The Nuremberg Academy Lectures explore topical issues at the intersection of international criminal law, transitional justice, and policy. The International Nuremberg Principles Academy invites leading scholars and practitioners to deliver a lecture and engage in dialogue. Through its public lecture series featuring speakers of national and international renown, the International Nuremberg Principles Academy provides a forum for discussion around contemporary issues in international criminal law and promotes public understanding of international law.