2024 George Barrett Award | Hillman Foundation

2024 George Barrett Award

Philippe Sands KC

Philippe Sands KC

Professor of the Public Understanding of Law, University College London Faculty of Laws
Samuel and Judith Pisar visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Philippe Sands KC is an internationally recognised and respected human rights lawyer and writer. He is Professor of Law at University College London and currently the Samuel and Judith Pisar visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. 

He practices as a Barrister in London at 11 Kings Bench Walk (11 KBW). He appears as counsel before many international courts and tribunals, including the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court. He sits as an arbitrator, on the Court of Arbitration for Sport and in international investment disputes. He was involved in the negotiations of the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, for vulnerable small island states, and recently co-chaired an international working group on a new crime of Ecocide.

He is the author of 17 books on international law and has held visiting positions at the New York University Law School, the Sorbonne in Paris, the University of Melbourne, the University of Torronto, Boston College Law School, and Lviv University. His commitment to the international rule of law is reflected in the award of numerous Honorary Doctorates.

He is probably best known for East West Street (2016), a worldwide best-seller that is translated into 30 languages. It is a compelling account of the Ukrainian city of Lviv’s contribution to modern international criminal law. It is based on the lives of Rafael Lemkin, Hersch Lauterpacht and Leon Buchholz, Philippe’s grandfather, as well as Hans Frank, who served as Hitler’s lawyer. Lemkin and Lauterpacht invented the legal concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide,” and then prosecuted them at the Nuremburg Trials. Philippe Sands traces his family history from Lviv in parallel with the legal careers of these two brilliant lawyers and academics. The book centers on the fundamental role played by individuals in developing and applying the law. The personal connections traced through the book provide a riveting insight into Philippe’s own inspiring career in international law.

The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trial of a Nazi Fugitive, published in 2020, is a sequel offering an account of the life of a senior Nazi SS Officer, Otto von Wachter, and traces his life as a fugitive on the run in the Alps and then in Rome and the Vatican.

The Last Colony: A Tail of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy was published in 2022.  In this book Professor Sands describes how in the 1960s a secret decision was made by Britain to offer the U.S. space in the Chagos Archipelago to create a military base at Diego, which led to the forcible deportation of the entire local population. Professor Sands represented Mauritiusm, which argued for the return of the Chagossians, securing a landmark ruling from the International Court of Justice, in 2019, which ruled that Britain had illegally detached Chagos from Mauritius. In this case, Philippe exposed the stark and enduring consequences of colonial power in the late twentieth century and the devastating consequences for communities and peoples.

His other books include Lawless World (2005), on the illegality of the 2003 Iraq war, and Torture Team (2008), on the role of the Bush Administration lawyers in the embrace of torture.

Philippe Sands has spent his professional life committed to the role of international law and justice, exposing its breaches at the highest level. He most recently appeared before the International Court of Justice in February of this year as counsel for the State of Palestine, on the right to self-determination.

His published work has also formed the basis of staged and radio productions, exploring the public and historical impact of international law. His last two books, The Ratline and The Last Colony, are currently being developed for the screen. He contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The New York Times. His next book, the third in the East West Street trilogy, on Augusto Pinochet’s case in London, will be published in 2025.

The Sidney Hillman Foundation is delighted to honor Philippe Sands, whose professional career has exemplified the public spirit and activism of George “Citizen” Barrett, and who has distinguished himself in the best tradition of public interest law by working on behalf of those without money or power to secure their basic civil and human rights, to address the legacies of colonialism, and to protect the global environment.