Former President of the International Criminal Court, Current President of UNICEF/Korea
“Through law we can change the world.”
– Sang-Hyun Song, in an interview with Lionel Barber.
Sang-Hyun Song has vast practical and academic experience in the field of justice as a Judge, Prosecutor, Attorney and Law Professor. His legal career started as a military judge for criminal cases in the Korean Army. After that, he became an attorney for New York and Korean law firms. Serving for over twenty years as a member of the Advisory Committee to the Korean Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice, Song contributed to the reform of the national litigation system, in particular in relation to criminal procedures, criminal investigations, prison reforms, human rights protection and the fight against corruption.
In 2003, Song became one of the first judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and in 2009, he was elected President of the Court. During his six-year strategic leadership of the ICC, Song was a strong voice for the rights of victims of war crimes and their role in transitional justice. He advocated for victims’ participation in the proceedings before the ICC, arguing that victims of war crimes should be actively involved in proceedings against war criminals and that the ICC has the responsibility to offer these victims some form of redress. Song’s leadership at the International Criminal Court was not limited to legal practice and academic debate, as he visited over 60 countries to promote accountability for international and war crimes. During these visits, he urged states to become a member of the ICC in order to build international peace and justice. After twelve years of service Song retired from the ICC in March 2015.
Born in South Korea, Song experienced the Japanese occupation, the Second World War and the Korean War and witnessed the atrocities of war at first hand. His grandfather was a leading figure in the ‘independence movement’ during the Japanese occupation of Korea and was assassinated because of his political convictions. These harsh experiences drive Song in his dedication to human rights and his ambition to alleviate suffering.
Besides being an accomplished Lawyer, Professor and Justice Leader at the highest international level, Song is dedicated to protecting children and women. He is currently holding office as the president of UNICEF/Korea and spends considerable time leading various charitable NGOs, notably as co-founder of the Legal Aid Centre for Women and Childhood Leukemia Foundation in Seoul. Song has been awarded for his contribution to international humanitarian law and human rights law, both in Korea and abroad. He is recipient of the highest decoration of the Korean Government (Mungunghwa), the ABA Rule of Law Award, Cornell University’s Distinguished Alumni Medal and the Korean Federal Bar Association’s Legal Culture Award.