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Alfred-Maurice de Zayas

Alfred-Maurice de Zayas

American United Nations official
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American United Nations official
Countries United States of America
Occupations Lawyer Historian Jurist Translator Poet lawyer Historian
Gender male
Birth 31 May 1947 (Havana)
Education Harvard Law School, University of Göttingen
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas
The details

Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (born May 31, 1947, Havana, Cuba) is an American lawyer, writer, historian, a leading expert in the field of human rights and international law and retired high-ranking United Nations official. Since 2012, he has been the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order (appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council).
During its 27th session in September 2014 the Human Rights Council extended his mandate through 2018 pursuant to resolution A/HRC/RES/27/9. De Zayas is currently a professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, and formerly worked with the United Nations from 1981 to 2003 as a senior lawyer with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Secretary of the Human Rights Committee, and the Chief of Petitions. Zayas practised law in New York and Florida 1970-74 specializing on corporate law
De Zayas' work focuses inter alia on the judicial protection of peoples and minorities. He holds a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School and a doctorate in modern history from the University of Göttingen in Germany. He has written and lectured extensively on human rights, including the jurisprudence of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust the US-run detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, the expulsion of Eastern European Germans after the Second World War, the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974, the rights of minorities, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the rights of indigenous peoples. and unfair trade relations
He is an advocate of "the right to homeland" as a universal human right, of the human right to peace, of the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly and a World Court on Human Rights, and has been active on behalf of the Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
Since his early retirement from the UN in 2003, de Zayas has become a vocal critic of the 2003 Iraq War indefinite detention in Guantanamo, secret CIA prisons, nuclear pollution, asymmetric trade and investment agreements, and extreme poverty.
A resident of Geneva, he was President of the Suisse Romand Centre of International PEN from 2006–09, and in March 2013 was elected president for a further term of three years. From 1990 to 2005 he was president of the United Nations Society of Writers (UNSW) and is currently the editor-in-chief of UNSW’s literary journal Ex Tempore


De Zayas was born in Havana, Cuba and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He earned his juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School, then a doctorate of philosophy in modern history from the Georg-August University of Göttingen.

He practiced corporate law in New York and family law in Florida, as a member of the New York and Florida Bars. He was also a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Tübingen in Germany and research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. In 1978–80, he participated in the German-American Schoolbook Commission at the Georg Eckert Institut in Braunschweig, and, in 1980, published a long article on the subject of prejudice and stereotypes in schoolbooks in "Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte".

During the course of his legal and academic career, de Zayas has been a visiting professor of international law and of world history at a number of institutions, including the Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva), the DePaul University College of Law (Chicago), the University of British Columbia (Vancouver), the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, the Schiller International University (Leysin), the Académie Internationale de Droit Constitutionnel (Tunis), the University of Trier, Santa Clara Law School (California), the Center for Applied Studies in International Negotiations (CASIN) (Geneva), the Felix Ermacora Institute (Vienna), the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (Lund, Sweden), University College Galway (Ireland), the University of Alcala de Henares, Madrid (Spain), and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (San Remo, Italy). He has been member of doctoral committees at the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, the Universities of Amsterdam and Alcalá de Henares and the Geneva School of Diplomacy.

De Zayas regularly publishes op-ed articles and essays in international newspapers and media outlets, including The Guardian, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, and Bayernkurier. and the Tribune de Genève. He has made television appearances on round tables and panels for CNN, Russia Today, WDR, and others. He has been a legal and historical consultant to numerous television documentaries in the USA, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, including the Discovery Channel film on the sinking of the refugee ship "Wilhelm Gustloff", and the Bayerischer Rundfunk documentary, Flucht und Vertreibung.

Scholarly work

De Zayas' work into the expulsion of Germans from their areas in eastern Germany and Eastern Europe at the end of World War II is extensive.

In 1975, he published a study in the Harvard International Law Journal, questioning the legality of the expulsion of possibly as many as 15 million Germans from their homes after World War II, invoking the Atlantic Charter, the Hague Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles. The article was followed by the book Nemesis at Potsdam (Routledge und Kegan Paul, 1977) which focused on the degree of responsibility of the British and Americans for decisions leading to the expulsions of these ethnic Germans. In the same year, an enlarged German edition was published by the legal publisher C. H. Beck, becoming a bestseller. In this book, Zayas took an interdisciplinary approach to the phenomenon of "population transfers" and examined the situation of the ethnic Germans from both a historical and legal perspective

De Zayas was reportedly the first American historian to address this topic. The Deutsche Welle reported in 2007: "He wrote the first scholarly work on German expellees to appear in English, breaking what had long been a taboo topic." The German Federal Minister Heinrich Windelen wrote in the foreword to de Zayas's book Anmerkungen zur Vertreibung: "It is thanks to De Zayas that the debate on The Expulsion has been reopened [...] In the subsequent period, a number of authors have drawn on the work of De Zayas. Thus, he has contributed significantly to the fact that discussion of The Expulsion is no longer considered taboo." As law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, he organized the exhibit "Ethnic Cleansing 1944–1948", (November 1993–February 1994), consisting of over 100 poster-sized Wochenschau, Bundesarchiv and US-Army Signal Corps pictures, as well as paintings by survivors of the expulsion; it was widely visited, and commented on in the Chicago press. The book is cited in scholarly publications and dissertations

His second book, The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau was published in Germany by Universitas/Langen Müller (de), in 1979, and the English translation by de Zayas himself by the University of Nebraska Press in 1989. This describes some of the work of the Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle, a special section of the legal department of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, which investigated Allied and German war crimes. Examples include the murder of Ukrainians in Lviv by the NKVD in 1941, the murder of Polish prisoners of war at Katyn in 1940, executions of German prisoners of war by French irregulars in 1944, and the sinking of the German hospital ship Tübingen by the British in 1944.

De Zayas was the first researcher to work with the 226 extant volumes (about half of the total, the rest apparently having been burned in Langensalza, Germany, near the end of the war.). They had been classified documents in the United States and had just been returned by the US National Archives to the German Bundesarchiv. The book was savagely attacked in the media of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Notwithstanding criticism from a few historians in Germany, these two books were well received in the academic community, are used in colleges and universities, and remain in print after thirty years.

The book on the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau was the product of a four-year project financed by the Institute of International Law of the University of Göttingen and by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The final report is available online.

Civic activities

De Zayas was co-president, with Jacqueline Berenstein Wavre, of the Association Suisses et Internationaux de Genève from 1996 to 2006. ASIG was particularly active in the cultural integration of international civil servants into Geneva life, an activity currently carried out by the "Geneva Welcome Centre" at the Villa la Pastorale in Geneva. UN Special vol. 606. also organized numerous round tables at the United Nations and other public events with a view to promoting Switzerland's entry into the United Nations.

On 11 November 1998, ASIG hosted a conference at the Palais des Nations on "Denis de Rougement ou l'art de penser en avant les problèmes". On May 12, 1999, ASIG hosted a conference by Professor Peter Tschopp, Director of the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, on "La Suisse et l'ONU" at the Centre d'Accueil Genève Internationale. ASIG hosted roundtables at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Palais Wilson 2000–2002


De Zayas is a member of numerous professional organizations and non-governmental organizations:

  • Amnesty International
  • PointsCoeur,
  • Geneva-based Club de la Presse
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationales Recht (German Society of International Law)
  • Centre Against Expulsions (Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen)
  • International Association of American Minorities,
  • Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte (Frankfurt)
  • International Expert Panel for a European Solution in Cyprus (2004–08).
  • Asociación Española para el Desarrollo del Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos (AEDIDH)


De Zayas has represented AEDIDH, the International P.E.N., and the International Society for Human Rights at round tables at the United Nations in Geneva. including with Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Jean Ziegler, with the Chairman of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Luis de Alba, and with the President of the General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann.

He is an advocate of the human right to peace and a signatory of the Luarca Declaration on the Human Right to Peace. He contributed to a book on the Human Right to Peace and presented it at a symposium at the University of California at Berkeley in November 2009.

While a staff member at the UN, Zayas was the founder and editor of the series "Selected Decisions of the Human Rights Committee under the Optional Protocol." Before being named rapporteur, he was a regular participant in panels and round tables at the United Nations, where he represented the International Society for Human Rights and PEN International. During the 4th–30th sessions of the Human Rights Council, he has participated in side-events on various issues including the right to development, extreme poverty, the millennium development goals, women's rights, self-determination, indigenous rights, Kashmir, disarmament for development, moderated panels on human dignity and gender equality, and presented the statement of Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on the International Day of Human Rights, September 21, 2007.

He was a consultant with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and a member of the board of directors of Unite for Rights, a California-based NGO, which aims at a new human rights convention with effective implementation machinery to promote and protect all human rights, including the "new enabling rights" such as the right to peace, the right to truth, the right to a homeland.

In June 2009, de Zayas published, together with Justice Jakob Th. Möller of Iceland, The Case-Law of the United Nations Human Rights Committee 1977–2008. The first chairperson of the Committee, Andreas Mavrommatis, wrote the preface and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan, reviewed it in the UN Special of June 2009 (pp. 18–19).

De Zayas co-authored and co-edited International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms (with Gudmundur Alfredsson and Bertrand Ramcharan) in 2009.

United Nations Independent Expert

In January 2008, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights placed his name on the public list of candidates for Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. In 2011, the office of United Nations Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order was established by Human Rights Council resolution 18/6.

In 2012, de Zayas was elected as the Independent Expert by the Human Rights Council, after being nominated by the President of the council, Laura Dupuy. He presented his first report to the UN Human Rights Council at its 21st session in September 2012, calling for uniform application of international law. On November 2, 2012, he presented his interim report to the UN General Assembly in New York. Doc. A/67/277. On 10 September 2013 he presented his second report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/24/38, and, in October 2013 his second report to the GA . A/68/284, to the UN General Assembly exploring initiatives and enforcement mechanisms to further advance a democratic and equitable international order.

On September 10, 2014, his third report, A/HRC/27/51.[99] to the council and On October 27, 2014, he presented his third report to the General Assembly on the right to self-determination (A/69/272)[103][104] In the press release issued the following day, he stated: "The realization of the right of self-determination is essential to maintaining local, regional and international peace and must be seen as an important conflict-prevention strategy".[105] In 2015, the US based magazine of global politics, Foreign Policy, consulted with the UN Independent Expert on the application of the right to self-determination in the Indonesian region of West Papua.

On 10 September 2015 he presented his fourth report to the Council on the adverse human rights impacts of free trade and investment agreements on a democratic and equitable international order, and on October 26, 2015 to the General Assembly on the issue of investor state dispute settlement. The main observations of these reports were reported by news outlets such as Reuters, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Russia Today (RT), and The Independent.

During his mandate, he addressed multiple contemporary world issues, welcoming the Arms Trade Treaty and urging States to regulate not only trade but also production of arms. For the 2013 World Water Day, he stated: “With the growth of the world population, the global climate change and the need for a greater healthy environment, access to water resources has become a crucial condition for the realization of a democratic and equitable international order.".

In 2015, following a press release, de Zayas urged trade negotiators to address the Doha Round commitments to promote equal and fair trade at the Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, which was reported by India’s The Hindu. He called for the abolition of Investor-State dispute settlement arbitration which accompanies investment agreements stating: “Far from contributing to human rights and development, ISDS has compromised the State's regulatory functions and resulted in growing inequality among States and within them.” The Guardian]] published his op-ed on adverse human rights impacts of free trade and investment agreements.

Literary endeavors

Apart from his scholarly work in the fields of history and law, de Zayas has published poetry in English, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch, has translated the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke into English, French, and Spanish, and has translated works by Joseph von Eichendorff and Hermann Hesse into English.

As a member of the International Rainer Maria Rilke Society of Sierre, Switzerland, de Zayas published the first English-language translation of Rilke's "Larenopfer", 90 poems dedicated to Rilke's homeland of Bohemia and his home city of Prague Zayas has lectured on Rilke in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Canada. On May 2, 2011, he delivered a lecture at the Salon du Livre de Genève (Geneva bookfair) on "Rilke, poète de la Heimat"

He has published in the literary journal of the PEN Club Suisse Romande "L'Escarpe" (renamed 2008 "Pages Littéraires) in 2007-08. A member of International PEN since 1989, he was Secretary-General of the Centre Swiss Romande of PEN PEN Club in 2002–06, and its president 2006–10; 2010-13 he was a member of the Centre's executive committee, and in 2013 was again elected President. Zayas was coordinator of the three Swiss PEN Centres Switzerland 2008–10, and again 2013-14.

De Zayas served for fifteen years as president of the United Nations Society of Writers, Geneva. He was the founder of the UN literary review Ex Tempore, which has published 25 issues. In October 2011 he was reelected editor-in-chief of Ex Tempore. On January 21, 2011, the 15th annual Ex Tempore salon was held in Geneva.

In honour of the Whistler Olympics Zayas read out his poem "Skiing", also published in the February 2010 UN Special. and in the Spring 2010 issue of the UBC literary Journal "Esoteric". On October 14, 2014, the UN Library in Geneva held celebrated the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Society of Writers with a special event devoted to literature and peace. De Zayas has been a member of the Société Genevoise des Ecrivains since 2008 and a member of the Société des Ecrivains Valaisans since 2013.


De Zayas received the:

  • "Ehrengabe zum Georg Dehio Preis" in Esslingen in 1980,
  • Human Rights Award of the Danube Swabian Society of the United States and Canada in 1995
  • VDA-Kulturpreis in Weimar in 1996
  • "Plakete für Verdienste für das Selbstbestimmungsrecht" in Berlin in 1997
  • "Humanitas Ring" in Frankfurt in 1998
  • Dr. Walter-Eckhardt-Ehrengabe für Zeitgeschichtsforschung" ("Dr. Walter Eckhardt Award for Contemporary History") from Ingolstadt Research Institute for Contemporary History in 2001

On July 26, 2008, de Zayas was awarded the Cultural Prize (Kulturpreis) of the city of Geislingen (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) for his Rilke and Hesse translations.

De Zayas was awarded the Educator's Award 2011 by the teacher- and civil society organization Canadians for Genocide Education (CGE), on March 31, 2011, at the University of Toronto.

Selected works


  • "50 Theses on the Expulsion of the Germans from Central and Eastern Europe", Verlag Inspiration: London and Berlin, 2012. ISBN 978-3-9812110-4-7.
  • Völkermord als Staatsgeheimnis, Olzog Verlag, München, 2011. ISBN 978-3-7892-8329-1.
  • The Genocide against the Armenians and the relevance of the 1948 Genocide Convention, Beirut, Lebanon: Haigazian University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-9953-475-15-8.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee Case Law 1977-2008 (together with Jakob Th. Möller), N.P.Engel Publishers, Kehl/Strasbourg, 2009, ISBN 978-3-88357-144-7.
  • 50 Thesen zur Vertreibung London/Berlin: Verlag Inspiration, 2008. ISBN 978-3-9812110-0-9.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke. Die Larenopfer Bilingual English-German edition with commentary. Los Angeles: Red Hen Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59709-010-7; second revised edition with a preface by Ralph Freedman, 2008.
  • International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms (with Gudmundur Alfredsson and Bertrand Ramcharan). The Hague: Kluwer, 2001. ISBN 90-411-1445-9. New revised edition, Brill 2009, ISBN 978-90-04-16236-5.
  • Heimatrecht ist Menschenrecht Universitas Verlag, 2001; ISBN 3-8004-1416-3
  • Human Rights in the Administration of Criminal Justice (with Cherif Bassiouni), New York, Transnational Press: 1994; ISBN 0-941320-87-1
  • Nemesis at Potsdam: The Expulsion of the Germans from the East. Routledge (1979) ISBN 978-0897253604; 7th ed. Rockland, Maine: Picton Press, 2003; ISBN 0-89725-360-4. 14. revised German edition Die Nemesis von Potsdam, Herbig, Munich 2005.
  • A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994; ISBN 1-4039-7308-3; second revised edition, Palgrave/Macmillan, New York 2006.
  • The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 (with Walter Rabus). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989; ISBN 0-8032-9908-7. New revised edition with Picton Press, Rockland, Maine; ISBN 0-89725-421-X. German edition: Die Wehrmacht Untersuchungsstelle, 7th revised and enlarged edition Universitas/Langen Müller, Munich 2001; 8th revised and enlarged edition Lindenbaum Verlag, 2012; ISBN 978-3-938176-39-9.

Articles and chapters

  • 4 entries in Dinah Shelton (ed.) Encyclopedia of Genocide. Macmillan Reference, 2005, "Aggression", "Ismael Enver", "Nelson Mandela", "Raoul Wallenberg".
  • 6 entries in David Forsythe, Encyclopedia of Human Rights (Oxford 2009): P.E.N. International and Human Rights, Jose Ayala Lasso, Aryeh Nyer, Kenneth Roth, Simon Wiesenthal and Bertrand Ramcharan; ISBN 978-0-19-533402-9.
  • 18 entries in the Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, edited by Rudolf Bernhardt, Amsterdam: Elsevier, Vol. 1–5, 1992–2003, including "United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights", "Combatants", "Spanish Civil War", "Population Expulsion", "Repatriation", "Open Towns", "Curzon Line", "United States Dependent Territories", "European Recovery Program", etc.
  • "Freedom of Opinion and Freedom of Expression" (together with Aurea Rolda) in the Netherlands International Law Review vol. LIX, 2012, pp. 425–55
  • "Die amerikanische Besetzung Guantánamos", Institut für Rechtspolitik an der Universität Trier, Rechtspolitisches Forum Nr. 28, 2005, ISSN 1616-8828.
  • "Ethnic Cleansing: Applicable Norms, Emerging Jurisprudence, Implementable Remedies" in John Carey (ed.) International Humanitarian Law: Origins, New York: Transnational Press, 2003, pp. 283–307.
  • "The Follow-up Procedure of the UN Human Rights Committee" in International Commission of Jurists Review, no. 47, 1991.
  • "The Illegal Implantation of Turkish Settlers in Occupied Northern Cyprus" in Gilbert Gornig (ed.), Iustitia et Pax, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2008, pp. 721–31.
  • "The Istanbul Pogrom of 6–7 September 1955 in the Light of International Law" in Genocide Studies and Prevention, vol. 2, no. 2 (August 2007) pp. 137–55.
  • "Karl Ernst Smidt" in Biographisches Lexikon für Ostfriesland, Aurich, 2007.
  • "Der Krieg im ehemaligen Yugoslawien aus völkerrechtlicher Sicht" in Tilman Zülch (ed.) "Ethnische Säuberung-Völkermord", Hamburg: Luchterhand (1993).
  • "Minority Rights in the New Millennium" in The Geneva Post Quarterly, May 2007, pp. 155–208.
  • "Normes morales et normes juridiques. Concurrence ou conciliation" in Anne Sophie Millet-Devalle (ed.), Religions et Droit International Humanitaire, Paris: Editions Pedone, 2007, pp. 81–87.
  • "Der Nürnberger Prozess" in Alexander Demandt "Macht und Recht", Munich: C.H. Beck, 1996.
  • "The potential for US ratification and enforcement of the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights". Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, vol. 20, 1990. pp. 299–310.
  • "The Procedures and Case-Law of the United Nations Human Rights Committee" in Carlos Jiménez Piernas, The Legal Practice in International Law and European Community Law, Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2007.
  • "The Right to One's Homeland, Ethnic Cleansing and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia", Criminal Law Forum, 1995, pp. 257–314.
  • "The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights" in Helmut Volger (ed.) Concise Encyclopaedia of the United Nations, The Hague: Kluwer, 2002 (2nd revised edition 2009).


  • editor of the United Nations series "Human Rights Committee. Selected Decisions under the Optional Protocol" CCPR/C/OP/1, CCPR/C/OP/2, etc.
  • Poetry in English, French, Spanish, German and Russian published in various literary journals and newspapers including "Esoteric" in 2003, 2004 and 2005 (literary journal of the University of British Columbia), in "Ex Tempore" (literary journal of the United Nations Society of Writers), in les Pages Litteraires (literary journal of P.E.N. International, Centre Suisse romand), in the U.N. Special, Reflections (United Nations Staff Council, New York), in "Paloma", publication of the Geneva Salève Society, etc.

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