By Srishti Saha, Master in Interdisciplinary Data Science, ’21

The DHRC@FHI hosted a screening of “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz”  (directed by Barry Avrich) on January 22. It was a successful show with around 35 people gathering for the screening followed by a panel discussion with Profs. Eric L. Muller from UNC Law and James Chappel from Duke University’s History Department.

The movie offered insightful information. It was extremely inspiring. Ben Ferencz dedicated a large part of his life to international criminal law.

The movie takes its viewers through a journey of Ben’s life, as seen through his eyes and from the perspective of the people who have known him and have worked with him. He got into Harvard University Law School after graduating from City College with a scholarship. His work for people suffering from the Nazi crimes and other war crimes, experiences and emotions through the course of his life thereafter had people watching in admiration and in a deep sense of thought. His first case was as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials (or the Einsatzgruppen Trial) in the legal team of Telford Taylor. This was the beginning of his fight against war crimes and other forms of crimes against humanity.

The movie describes Ben as a workaholic to this date. He is still working and can be quoted as saying ‘I don’t know what retirement is and I have no intention to go play golf.’ He is committed to law and wants to make a more humane and peaceful law and order.

This movie screen was followed by a panel discussion with Profs. Eric L. Muller and James Chappel.  Professor Muller is the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor at UNC School of Law and a nationally known and much-published expert on the mass removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II. He is also Academic Director at the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics, an educational non-profit that uses the complicity of German professionals in the crimes of the Third Reich as a lens through which to examine our own lives and ethical choices as professionals.

Professor Chappel is the Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History at Duke University. His main interest is in the intellectual history of modern Europe, focusing on themes of religion, welfare, and the family. In addition to academic venues, he has been published in more popular ones like The Nation, Dissent, and The Washington Post. His first book appeared from Harvard University Press in 2018 under the title Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church.

The audience and the panellists discussed if Ben Ferencz’s thoughts, pursuits and actions in international law would be as relevant in the current times as they were back then. The discussion opened with the question if Ben Ferencz “lived through the rise and the eventual fall of the idea of international criminal law as an effective way to haul mass violence or genocide,” as asked by Professor Chappel. The discussion provided a deep insight into the current scenario of war crimes and debated if they can be fought with law.

Professor Muller also stated his opinion that the notion that law (both domestic and international) could not be the only tool to save us from future genocide and violence. The talk also presented certain ideas around the continuation of crime in society. “Much war does not arise from reflections and cognition. It arises from other instincts and motives that human beings have,” said Professor Muller. Since these motives will continue to drive individuals and (portions of) societies, there is a need for a system of accountability for those actions. There is a need for resources and systems beyond international criminal law for the same.

The discussion saw enthusiastic participation by students, professors and everyone in the audience alike. It was an inspiring couple of hours to see everyone get together for a thought-provoking session around crimes and law as a tool to fight against it.


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