In Memoriam: The Honorable Hans-Peter Kaul, Judge, International Criminal Court

by Leila Nadya Sadat, Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Israel Treiman Faculty Fellow, Director, Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law, Special Advisor on Crimes Against Humanity to the ICC Prosecutor


On July 21st, 2014, the world lost a great champion of international justice. On the same day, I lost a dear friend and colleague, and Washington University – and particularly the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute – lost a great supporter.

Judge Hans-Peter Kaul was born on July 25th, 1943, and had a long and successful career as diplomat in the German Federal Foreign Office. In 1996 he became Head of the Division for International Law and led the German Delegation as negotiations for the establishment of the proposed international criminal court began. A canny diplomat with an extraordinary work ethic, Judge Kaul worked tirelessly both during the diplomatic negotiations and behind the scenes with the German government to bring Germany around to supporting the Court’s establishment, and with the Like Minded group of states to bring the Preparatory Committee and Rome Diplomatic negotiations to a successful conclusion.

My path intersected with his even before I had formally been introduced, as he came to befriend our close mutual friend, Whitney Harris. Whitney had represented the committee of former Nuremberg prosecutors in Rome, and at our Harris Institute conference celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Court’s establishment, Hans-Peter recalled vividly, during his remarks in honor of what would have been Whitney’s 100th birthday, how that distinguished gentlemen stood out for his extraordinary presence and commitment to international justice during the difficult days at Rome. Through Whitney, he came to know of Washington University Law School, and myself, and we became both good friends and mutual supporters.

My first real formal introduction to Hans-Peter, as I recall, was during a conference on international justice at the University of Kiel. I did not know very many of the participants and was one of the few women present at this very high level gathering of German academics and juridical figures. He approached me personally to congratulate me upon the publication of my monograph on the International Criminal Court and praise its quality. The kindness and thoughtfulness of this gesture touched me greatly, and as I later learned, was characteristic of Hans-Peter. He gave an address at that gathering, and particularly impressed me with his thoughtful remarks about the Court and about the importance of repairing the Court’s relationship with the United States. He was deeply saddened by the Bush administration’s attacks on the ICC, but never let that sadness be transformed into anger or anti-Americanism. Always grateful for the American contribution to international justice during its foundational period at Nuremberg, he inspired me personally – as an American – to remember that legacy and that heritage and align my scholarship, my teaching and my advocacy with those values – of peace and justice, of equality before the law, of fidelity to the law and of the law as a bulwark of protection for the weak and the unempowered, values that we both shared.

When Hans-Peter was elected to the International Criminal Court as a judge in February 2003, he continued his advocacy on behalf of that Institution. And he never forgot his friends. He spoke eloquently at the Nuremberg Conference hosted at Washington University in 2006, and again at our celebration of the Court’s first decade in 2010. We often exchanged correspondence, and while sometimes we had to agree to disagree on matters of technical substance, always our relationship was infused with affection and mutual respect. Of particular note to me was the extraordinary effort he and his wife Elisabeth made to attend Whitney Harris’s memorial service in 2010, and his eloquent introduction to me and the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative that I led in The Hague in 2009. 

Funny, charming, hard-working and fierce in his defense of the Court and the right of the world’s peoples to live in peace, Hans-Peter dedicated his entire life for the betterment of the world, and left the world a better place than he found it. Loved by his wife, and his beautiful children about whom he often spoke, he embodied the humanity in his personal life that he served in his professional career. Hans-Peter, I miss you already, and am only comforted by the thought that you have joined many other great souls in Heaven, with whom you are undoubtedly conversing and whose company you are surely enjoying. As you said yourself about Whitney Harris upon the occasion of his death, that Germany has come to embrace the Nuremberg legacy and become such a steadfast supporter of the International Criminal Court, shows that your legacy – which you devoted your professional career to – will live on and on, in the halls of the ICC, in the judgments you penned, in the people who worked for and with you, and even more, in the hearts of so many of us still on Earth. Bless you, my dear, departed friend. May you rest in eternal peace.