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A Bench named “Law not War” – a story of Benjamin Ferencz’s quest to replace the “rule of force with the rule of law”


Benjamin and Donald Ferencz.

By Dr. Nevenka Tromp, University of Amsterdam

On a sunny day in May of 2019, a wooden bench overlooking the Peace Palace was officially presented to a small but distinguished audience. It was a present from Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nazi crimes to the city of The Hague. The donor, a vibrant 98 years old lawyer and activist, flew from the US, more precisely Florida, to be personally present at the event.

Everything about the bench was carefully planned by its donor and a small creative team led by his son Donald Ferencz. The bench is made of wooden blocks, that resemble the form the bricks of the Peace Palace building. In the middle of it there are metal letters “LAW NOT WAR” The long bench curves elegantly on the street in front of the high iron fence, giving its users a beautiful view of the Peace Palace building. Its shape is such that people can sit on its both sides.

Benjamir Ferencz and Fatou Bensuda, Prosecutor of the ICC.


Not far from the bench, at the first street corner, starts Benjamin Ferencz pad. Namely in May 2017 the city of The Hague honored, then 97 old Ferencz with a path named after him. The typical blue-and-white street board points invitingly towards the park that surrounds the Peace Palace building.

Ferencz has been a fixture in The Hague vibrant international legal scene ever since the city profiled itself as a world capital of peace and justice in the early 1990s. He was for decades heavily involved in the lobbying efforts to create a permanent international criminal court and he greeted the affirmation of the Rome Statute in 1998 with the words that “an international criminal court – the missing link in the world legal order – is within our grasp.” Indeed, in 2002 the International Criminal Court (the ICC) was created.

Benjamin Ferencz pad

But Ferencz had yet another mission to fulfil. Along with his son Donald, and a group of distinguished scholars, lawyers and diplomats, he rallied vigorously and intensively to add to the ICC Statute – crime of aggression. And they succeed. As of July 2018, crime of aggression became the fourth crime – next to war crimes, crime against humanity, and genocide – under the ICC’s jurisdiction. Not insignificant for the story is the fact that this was a historical development in the international criminal justice given that it is first time since Nuremberg’s Nazi trials that an international tribunal has been enabled to prosecute crime of aggression.

Ferenczstarted his legal career in 1947 in Nuremberg and at age 27 he became the youngest US prosecutor to prosecute the Nazi crimes. This extraordinary beginning of his professional life will mark Ferencz. The evidence he encountered in his work made him feel that he had peeked through he door of Inferno. After the war he moved to New York where he practiced law in a private firm until 1975, when he finished the book Defining International Aggression-The Search for World Peace.

More books followed and his ideas led to activism of which the creation of the ICC and inclusion of crime of aggression in the ICC statute are –are his most extraordinary achievements. Benjamin Ferencz showed us that law can change the way how people think and behave.



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