Last week, Thomas Buergenthal, Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence, was awarded the Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award by the United Nations Association – National Capital Area. The award, established in 1997, is presented annually to individuals who have made substantial contributions to human rights. GW President Steven Knapp introduced Professor Buergenthal at the event, and this award was one of three honors he has recently received for his work in international law and human rights.
“Professor Louis B. Sohn was my teacher, academic collaborator, and lifelong friend,” Professor Buergenthal said. “Receiving the prize named for him is therefore a very special honor for me.”
Sohn, who helped draft the Charter of the United Nations and also fostered awareness and action in human rights, held a close friendship and working relationship with Professor Buergenthal. The two met when Professor Buergenthal was at Harvard Law School, while he was working on his LL.M. and S.J.D., which Sohn supervised. They co-wrote two books together, International Protection of Human Rights in 1973 and The Movement of Persons Across Borders in 1992. Sohn also taught on the faculty of GW Law during the later years of his career.
Just as Sohn mentored Professor Buergenthal throughout his career, Professor Buergenthal in turn has passed the torch and has acted as a mentor for many in the field, including Dinah Shelton, Manatt/Ahn Professor of International Law.
“Tom is a world historical figure, someone who, by his life experience and enormous accomplishments, has changed the world,” said Paul Schiff Berman, Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law. “From his eloquent testimony regarding the horrors of the Holocaust to his work essentially inventing the modern field of international human rights law, to his championing the cause of international justice as a judge and scholar—he is the rare thing: a true hero. We are honored to have him on our faculty at the Law School.”
On December 6, the Olender Foundation celebrated their 26th Annual Awards ceremony and honored Professor Buergenthal with the Advocate for Justice Award and an Olender Foundation grant honor that will go to a scholarship in his name to GW Law. The Olender Foundation was co-founded by Washington lawyers Jack Olender (LL.M. ’61) and Lovell Olender, and aims to counter poverty and violence and to promote opportunity and equal justice.
The next day, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists awarded Professor Buergenthal as well as Jack Olender with the 2011 Pursuit of Justice Award. Previous recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and other distinguished judges, lawyers, and legal practitioners. The Law School community is honored to have both a professor and a widely respected alumnus receive the award simultaneously.
“Tom overcame the adverse circumstances of his childhood to become a pioneer in the field of human rights,” said Susan Karamanian, Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies. “He is deserving of the three awards presented to him this week which reflect his life-long commitment to the promotion of justice and the recognition of the dignity of each individual.”