In Memoriam Luzius Wildhaber

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Luzius Wildhaber played an extraordinary role in scholarship, academic engagement and the practice of international law. He was a global citizen, having studied in Switzerland, the UK, Germany and receiving his LLM and his doctorate from Yale Law School. He gave talks and taught in all parts of the world. He received 13 doctorates honoris causa, a lot from Eastern Europe as well as orders of merits from several states. Before joining the European Court of Human Rights, he served as judge on several courts and administrative tribunals, inter alia of the Inter-American Development Bank and the Council of Europe. His engagement as a scholar was equally impressive with several books and over 230 articles, being the President of the University of Basel and presiding the Swiss Association of International Law for a long period of time. He advised governments on eminent questions, such as the Canadian Government on the secession of Quebec before the Supreme Court and the EU on sanctions against Austria in 2000. This to- and-fro between academia and practice was uniquely productive for both – in his judgments one could sense the professor and in his teaching one could sense the judge. Luzius Wildhaber was keenly aware of the mutual conditionality of the rule of law, democracy and human rights and their forming the basis for peace, security and progress in Europe and the world.

Openness, impartiality, and farsightedness, loyalty and curiosity combined with a high degree of common sense while never deviating from humanistic principles, and never losing his (dry) humor, characterized his personality.

He was also a family man: a fantastic father to his two daughters, both lawyers, one in practice, one in academia, taking any phone call from them even during the time he was President of the European Court of Human Rights as well as a devoted grandfather, taking care of and inspiring his grandchildren.

It was a source of special satisfaction to former President Wildhaber and to myself to have had five years in which we coincided in the respective Presidencies of the two international human rights tribunals (the European and the Inter-American Courts of Human Rights) in operation, and this rendered it possible for us to share memorable moments together, which we certainly cherished. During this half-decade (1999-2004) we established a permanent and fluid dialogue between our two Human Rights Courts, with annual meetings of  Delegations of  Judges of  both of them, in rotation, in Strasbourg and in San José of Costa Rica. This led to a remarkable jurisprudential cross-fertilization between them – an example to other contemporary international tribunals – and the prevalence of a spirit of genuine solidarity between them.

This, in turn, helped us to overcome certain moments of crisis that our Human Rights Courts faced during that period, such as the open confrontation between the Inter-American Court and the Peruvian Government (under the Presidency of A. Fujimori, in 1999-2000), and the initial difficulties raised by the Russian Federation before the European Court shortly after its establishment in late 1998 (with the entry into force of Protocol n. 11 to the European Convention). On both occasions, we publicly expressed our solidarity with each other. It is nowadays widely recognized that our two Human Rights Courts, during our respective Presidencies, had, in their respective case-law, aptly made use of the techniques of public international law to resolve correctly basic procedural issues and thereby to strengthen their respective jurisdictions of protection of the human person. They have decisively safeguarded the integrity of the mechanisms of protection of the European and American Conventions on Human Rights, whereby the juridical emancipation of the human person vis-à-vis her own State is achieved.

The scholarship of Professor Luzius Wildhaber was displayed during his Presidency of the European Court: his capacity for work and dialogue (especially with the Supreme Courts of Eastern European countries, of the enlarged circle of States Parties to the European Convention), his patience, his dedication to the cause of human rights, and his personal kindness.

After the  Presidencies of the two international human rights tribunals in these turmoiled times, we have made a point of continuing to see each other from time to time, at least in the sessions of the Institut de Droit International which he joined in 1991 (as we have done in the sessions of Bruges, 2003, and Krakow, 2005), to reassess our personal recollections. From then onwards, we participated in successive Seminars (mainly in Strasbourg), in the period 2009 to 2015, when I became Judge of the International Court of Justice.  

With Luzius Wildhaber, the world has lost a unique personality and mind in the service of human rights and the rule of law. He will live on as an inspiration and a role model for the generations to come.

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