Pursuing Human Dignity: The Legacies of Nuremberg for International Law, Human Rights & Education

Pursuing Human Dignity: The Legacies of Nuremberg for International Law,
Human Rights, and Education
November 3 - 4, 2005

“We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to do justice.”
Justice Robert H. Jackson
Opening speech at the first Nuremberg Trial, November 20, 1945


The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg challenged the world to apply law to mass violence and to recognize crimes against humanity. Now, 60 years later, what has that precedent produced? Although little happened during the Cold War to advance the vision of justice and human dignity through international law, the past decade has witnessed new tribunals, the creation of an International Criminal Court, truth commissions and reparations initiatives, each devoted to restoring human dignity and addressing crimes against humanity and mass atrocity. Each of these efforts shows how international law has not fully achieved justice nor prevented new mass atrocities. However, the hope exemplified by the Nuremberg trials continues to inspire and call for broader education about human rights, strengthening the rule of law, bolstering democracy, and promoting empathy in the pursuit of human dignity. This conference will bring together participants from the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and current international justice initiatives with teachers, human rights activists, and students to explore legacies and implications of the Nuremberg trials and recent institutions for international justice. Together we will generate resources, for educators around the world, teaching about justice and transitional law in post-conflict societies, and identify strategies for strengthening civil society, human rights, and protection for human dignity. The conference will consider:

1) When responding to mass violence with the rule of law, how important is it that the rules are laid out in advance? Are the historical charges of retroactive justice and victor’s justice in the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg relevant to contemporary tribunals and courts?
2) What can law offer society after atrocities and what are the limits of legal and political responses to mass violence?
3) How can effective teaching cultivate the sense of civic responsibility needed to protect human dignity and prevent future violations of human rights?

The conference, which includes a library exhibit and dance performance, is the centerpiece of a year of reflection through guest lectures, films, and discussion groups, sponsored by the Sheldon Seevak Fund for Facing History at Harvard Law School. We at Facing History and Ourselves and Harvard Law School invite you to join in two days of reflection on the legacies of the Nuremberg trials.

For a conference agenda please click here

To watch clips of video from the conference, please click here.