International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Summer 2013 Issue

Leading Figures in International Law


Antonio Cassese (Italy) (1937-2011)

Antonio Cassese

By: Tyler Church, Legal Intern, International Judicial Academy

One of the most distinguished jurists in international criminal law, Antonio Cassese was a statesman, academic and judge. Judge Cassese is best known for his tireless efforts as the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and later as the President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, where he presided until 2011. In addition to his service to the various international courts, Judge Cassese was also a professor and author publishing many publications on the subject of international law.

Born in 1937 in the small southwestern town of Antripalda, Italy, Cassese graduated with a law degree at the University of Pisa and then went onto become a professor at the University of Pisa, as well as Florence University and the European University Institute. Judge Cassese then moved on to become a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University and a visiting professor for the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. He continued to guide many generations of young lawyers throughout his career as a judge and diplomat, retiring from the University of Florence in 2008.

Amidst all of his professorships, he also became one of Italy’s delegates to the United Nations Conference on Human Rights in 1968. Once involved with the United Nations, Judge Cassese served on countless commissions and committees focusing on Human Rights and international conflicts including the United Nations General Assembly, Legal Committee in 1974, 1975, and 1978. Throughout his career Judge Cassese continually served on international delegations and committees for the next 28 years.

In addition to his continuous service to the United Nations, Judge Cassese found time to write over 14 books and articles on various subjects in international law. Some of his books include the The New Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict (Vol. I 1979, Vol. II 1980), Violence and Law in the Modern Age (1988) and Human Rights in a Changing World (1990). His writings helped mold the international criminal courts and brought attention to some rising concerns in the international community about the role and direction of international criminal law.


Even with his remarkable service as a delegate, professor, and author, Judge Cassese’s most notable contribution to the international law community was as a jurist. He became the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993 where he served until 1997. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first international tribunal since the post-World War II trials at Nuremburg and Tokyo. Unlike the Nuremburg trials, wartime enemies did not prosecute the defendants but instead the court would be lead by the international community. As this tribunal was the first of its kind, Judge Cassese was faced with many problems, primarily the lack of budget and support from the international community. Despite the lack of support, Judge Cassese’s tireless determination and commitment made the ICTY a reality. After his tenure as President, Cassese continued to sit on the bench for the ICTY until 2000 as a presiding judge of a trial chamber.

In 2004, Judge Cassese was appointed by then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to be the Chairperson for the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur. The UN Security Council charged the Commission with the task of determining if there were any violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur.  The Commission’s findings lead to the first referral to the International Criminal Court. 

He was called two more times to serve the international law community.  In 2006, the UN Secretary General appointed him as an independent expert to review the judicial efficiency of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Antonio Cassese’s final post was as the President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon where he served from 2009 until 2011 when he left for medical reasons. Through these posts and many others Judge Cassese helped shape the modern international criminal justice system and his work continues to influence the development of that branch of international law.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2013 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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