David Tolbert Joins Georgetown Law as the Drinan Chair in Human Rights

September 8, 2022

WASHINGTON — International human rights lawyer and former war crimes prosecutor David Tolbert will join Georgetown Law as the 2022-2023 Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Chair in Human Rights.

David Tolbert headshot

David Tolbert

Tolbert has a distinguished record of human rights litigation and expertise in the international arena and in U.S. courts. He served four years, from 2004-08, as the Deputy Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he worked to bring to justice individuals responsible for violations of international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia. In 2008, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Tolbert as U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and Special Expert on the Khmer Rouge Trials dealing with the legacy of crimes against humanity. From 2010 to 2018, he served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, where he managed and directed a premier global justice and human rights organization, providing technical help on transitional justice issues throughout the world. Most recently, Tolbert served as the Registrar for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a position to which he was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Early in his career, Tolbert practiced civil and criminal litigation in the United States.

“We’re honored to welcome David Tolbert as our Drinan Chair in Human Rights for this academic year,” said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor. “David is a world-renowned expert in international criminal law. Our students will benefit tremendously from his wealth of experience in the fields of transitional justice and accountability.”

Tolbert will teach a course on transitional justice in the spring semester, serve as a mentor to students, and participate in Human Rights Institute (HRI) programming. He will serve as a crucial resource to the students in this year’s Human Rights Advocacy in Action Practicum as they work with Nadia’s Initiative, an NGO pursuing justice and support for Yazidi survivors of sexual violence and genocide perpetrated by members of ISIS. Tolbert will also deliver the annual Drinan Chair Lecture on Human Rights this fall.

HRI Executive Director and former Drinan Chair (2019-21) Elisa Massimino expressed enthusiasm about Tolbert’s appointment. “David has been an innovative leader in international organizations and NGOs for more than 30 years and played an essential role in the development of the transitional justice field. We are grateful to have him joining us at a time when issues of justice and post-conflict accountability are at the forefront of world events.”

“I am looking forward to joining the vibrant Georgetown Law community,” said Tolbert. “This is a particularly challenging time for human rights, globally and in the United States. It is also a time which calls out for accountability for serious crimes and abuses, occurring in a range of situations across the globe. I look forward to engagement with students, including teaching and less formal discussions, and making a contribution to Georgetown. I also hope to contribute my experience from several war crimes tribunals as well as more broadly on transitional justice and the rule of law, through teaching and engagement with students.”

The Drinan Chair was established in 2006 in honor of Professor Robert F. Drinan, S.J. Father Drinan was a professor at Georgetown Law for over 25 years, where he taught international human rights and constitutional law, among other topics. He was a priest, scholar, lawyer, politician, activist, ethicist and one of the nation’s leading advocates for international human rights. He dedicated his life to humanitarian causes and to improving the legal profession. The Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law honors his legacy through its mission of being a premier training ground for future human rights lawyers and advocates.

“As a high school student from a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, I had the good fortune to meet Father Drinan when I was in an exchange program in Washington, D.C.,” said Tolbert. “He made a fiery speech that addressed human rights which changed my views and was an important moment in my life. Subsequently, many years later, I met him and told him about our earlier meeting. He was very gracious, but his unyielding commitment had not changed at all. I was able to thank him for the impact he had on my career and my life.”

Tolbert has been a Ford Foundation Fellow and a Visiting Scholar at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and consults for the Kofi Annan Foundation on peace and justice issues. He earned his LL.M. in International Law from the University of Nottingham (U.K.) and his J.D. from the University of North Carolina. He has published over 40 scholarly and other writings on international criminal justice, transitional justice, and rule of law issues.