The Section for International Law and International Relations mourns the passing of Dr. Thomas Desch


After completion of his law studies from 1981 to 1995, Thomas Desch became a highly esteemed member of our Department. Both as Researcher and as Lecturer, he excelled in many respects. During his time as University Assistant, he was instrumental in establishing international moot court competitions as a permanent component of the course curriculum at the Faculty of Law of the University of Vienna. As Co-Coach of the Viennese team at the Telders Moot Court and subsequently at the Jessup Moot Court (1986-1993), he was able to spark the interest of numerous students for the field of international law, many of whom later made this subject their profession. After his academic work as University Assistant, which he interrupted for a Judicial Clerkship and a professional assignment to the Office of the Legal Adviser (“Völkerrechtsbüro”) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he moved to the Ministry of Defense in 1995, where he headed the External Legislation and International Law Division. This allowed him to put his extensive knowledge of international law as well as his special professional interest in the law of war and humanitarian law at the center of his work. He further served as the Austrian Delegate to the International Conference of the Red Cross. In addition to his participation in numerous multilateral conferences, he was a Member of the Austrian delegation to both the Preparatory Committee as well as the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of the International Criminal Court (1997-1998). He also served as Member of the Inter-Ministerial Task Group that drafted the 2014 Austrian Criminal Code Amendment on International Crimes. Moreover, as Legal Advisor to the Austrian delegation, Thomas Desch was one of the driving forces in the negotiations on the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), which was adopted in 1999. He participated in numerous meetings of UNESCO concerning the 1954 Hague Convention and in 2007, he chaired the 7th Meeting of the Parties to said Convention. In 2013, he was nominated by the Republic of Austria as Judge for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He was also instrumental in the development and establishment of the "Vienna Course on International Law for Military Legal Advisers" organized by the Ministry of Defense, which he led since its commencement (2004). In doing so, Thomas Desch was able to use his many years of experience as University Lecturer and his excellent didactic skills to convey his extensive knowledge of the practice to the participants.

The Department will remember Dr. Thomas Desch not only as an excellent international law scholar and practitioner, but above all, as a wonderful human being.